Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tax increase might allow vast UTA expansion, but do they deserve more money?

Wasted money or system to be emulated?
A bill is working its way through the house that would allow (via referendum) a tax increase to significantly expand bus service around SLC. HB388 is sponsored by Rep Joel Briscoe and Rep Johnny Anderson and would let local counties to put a quarter-cent (per $1 purchase) tax hike on the ballot that could raise up to $91.5M/yr and expand bus service by 68% over five years.

Some people have something of a dismal view of UTA and respond to such proposals like this:

But they are wrong. If we unpack the data with context, we see a different story. First, ridership of public transit around SLC has remained flat as a percentage of the population, despite heavy investment in rail:

That data is from here. BUT, what's been happening to our population the last few years? From here, we find that the SLC metropolitan area's population has been growing about 1.8%/yr (3.3% growth from 2010-2012) and much of this growth is occurring in the outlying suburbs of West Jordan, WVC, and South Jordan, and Draper (which aren't exactly at the core of the UTA system). So, to keep ridership the same as a percentage of the area's population, UTA has to maintain ridership growth at about 2% per year.

But what about those trains no one rides? Or what about the trains taking funding away from buses?

According to these rankings from Wikipedia, TRAX had ridership of 17 million in 2012 which is the ninth highest ridership in the country (in raw numbers), and is ahead of much larger cities like St Louis, Seattle, and Minneapolis. And good for Utah and UTA!

While BRT and regular bus expansion does provide more bang for the buck, SLC should be proud of the success of TRAX and excited about the possibilities of UTA expansion.

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