Council identifies priority bus routes for expansion

With a newly-adopted Transit Master Plan and an extra $25 million in revenue for next year, the Salt Lake City Council has a unique opportunity to fund the plan’s first phase.  During Tuesday’s work session the council identified which routes expansion should be prioritized and how much money should be allocated to fund the improved routes.

In a straw poll, the council signaled support in spending nearly $8 million for transit projects including a pilot rideshare program called, “Trips to Transit” and the expansion of bus routes on 900 South, 200 South, 2100 South, 600 North and 1000 North.  The selected routes would be the first routes to either become high-frequency routes or if current high-frequency routes have extended service hours under the goals of the Transit Master Plan.  Of the five routes, just 2100 South and 200 South have routes that run every 15 minutes during peak hours.

According to staff, the routes identified were selected based on ridership demands and because the routes run exclusively in the city, meaning city funds won’t go toward funding regional bus routes.

Transportation staff will work with UTA to ensure that expanded routes are incorporated into the regional network and that the ongoing responsibility to fund these improved routes doesn’t fall entirely on the city.  Staff noted that some route improvements could begin in 2019, but most significant improvements would come after 2020.

“The number one policy question for me is equity,” said Councilmember Amy Fowler.

Most council members agreed that ridership demands and equity needed to be balanced and expressed a reluctance to pick routes, not wanting routes to be prioritized based on politics.

The new revenue is from a previously approved sales tax increase that will yield a projected $25 million in the first year and around $33 million each subsequent year.

The council favorably straw polled a proposal by Councilmember Andrew Johnston, that called for new funds to be focused on three goals: increasing coverage in underserved areas in the city, increasing ridership along core downtown routes like 200 South and building out infrastructure, like bus shelters and signage, on key routes identified in the Transit Master Plan.

More transportation funds could become available if Salt Lake County leaders adopt a sales tax increase that was previously presented to voters under Proposition 1.  Salt Lake County leaders have asked local city councils to indicate support for a 0.25 percent tax increase, one penny for each $4 spent, that would fund transportation and public transit projects.  If approved, the new funds would be dispersed among the county, cities and UTA.  The local councils have until June 22, the day city budgets must be adopted under state law, to decide if they will support the tax increase.  The county will enact the sales tax increase if councils representing a two-thirds majority of the county’s 1.1 million residents signal their support.

“As we keep having conversations about finding ways to bind our money,” said Council Chair Erin Mendenhall.  “If we’re considering sticking our necks out to support a resolution like that, then we need to use whatever tools we have to bind our partner UTA to contributing a significant portion.”

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