Since being appointed by the Council of Governments (COG) in February to represent the southwest Salt Lake County region on the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) Local Advisory Council, I have discovered there is enormous inequity in service delivery and public transit access in Salt Lake County.
Salt Lake City, with just over 200,000 people, or 1,817 people per square mile, accounts for 17% of the population of Salt Lake County. The southwest cities of Bluffdale, Herriman, Riverton and South Jordan, with just over 202,000 people, or 2,996 people per square mile, collectively account for 17% of the population of the county. Despite the roughly equal population between these two areas – and even denser southwest population – Salt Lake City has 32% of bus stops in Salt Lake County while southwest cities have only 2% of bus stops. The cities of Riverton, Herriman and Bluffdale do not have a single bus stop! Further, Salt Lake City has 48% of rail stations in Salt Lake County while southwest cities have only 5%. As proof of the inequitable access to public transportation between these two regions, Salt Lake City accounted for 50% of all UTA boardings across all modes in Salt Lake County in 2021 where southwest cities accounted for just 2%.
Perhaps even more disturbing is a review of geographic financial contribution compared to service. UTA operations are funded largely by sales tax dollars collected from taxable sales in each city that are dedicated to mass transit. Based on a cost per ride and mode review, it costs an estimated $27.4 million more than what Salt Lake City generates in sales tax to provide their UTA service. In contrast, southwest cities generate $21.1 million more in sales taxes for transit than it costs to deliver their current level of UTA service. This is inequitable and blatantly unfair.
I believe our goal should be to have an equitable public transit system that provides reasonable access to those who contribute to its operation. After all, the more people who use public transit, the less congestion we have on our roads and the better our air quality will be due to reduced emissions. Unfortunately, we are far from that goal right now.
I call upon the UTA Board of Trustees and the Utah State Legislature to conduct a full analysis and audit of UTA service and finances to identify inequities in service and lack of access in various geographic regions in UTA’s service area. This audit and analysis should also include cost effectiveness and use of each mode of transit offered by UTA. I encourage those concerned about this inequity to reach out to their state representatives, state senators and the UTA Board of Trustees to express their concern. I’m confident that southwest Salt Lake County isn’t the only region served by UTA that has incredibly poor access and is massively subsidizing the UTA system elsewhere. Solutions must be put in place that increase access and make the system more geographically equitable. Express bus lines on major east-west and north-south roads in the southwest area would be a good start.