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A proposed bill would make public transit free in Utah

Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner stops at Centeral Station in Salt Lake City
Colleen Meidt
/
UPR
Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner stops at Centeral Station in Salt Lake City

In an effort to improve air quality by reducing vehicle emissions and promoting more public transportation, this legislative session a bill is being proposed to allow for free public transportation in Salt Lake City.

Mayor Mendenhall of Salt Lake City has led the Free Fare February initiative - allowing passengers free Utah Transit Authority (UTA) services this month. This initiative is intended to provide financial relief to those that rely on public transportation as well as encourage people to use UTA for a more affordable and greener way of travel across the state.

In Utah’s legislative session, a bill is being proposed to make that permanent. If passed, House Bill 164 would make UTA transportation, zero fare lines, 24/7 365 days a year.

Bill Sponsor and Representative Joel Briscoe of District 25 in Salt Lake speaks about the impact air pollution and low air quality has on our community.

“Breathing bad air even if it doesn't look bad is damaging to every one of us in ways that we don't always comprehend or see...we are fighting our own pollution," Briscoe said.

Referenced in the bill’s fiscal note, UTA could stand to lose approximately 40-50million of revenue each year. Briscoe feels that in light of climate change and people’s health this bill matters.

“$40 million is real money. But, compared to better health and better air, helping people who lack mobility to get around and get to work... It's more than a cleaner issue. It's also an issue about economic development and opportunity...Let's all do this. Let's all get committed to cleaning the air," Briscoe said

Jon Larson who is the Transportation Division Director of Salt Lake City says that despite the plummet in public transportation due to the pandemic, there are still many people that rely on UTA to travel.

“If you look at who pays cash fare, it's often people that are pretty low income, folks that are just barely getting by.... It benefits all of us, when our essential workers are able to get to work," Larson said. “We all breathe the same air. And the more people that are riding public transportation, instead of driving, the better off we are, it's cleaner air, less congestion on our roads... it also benefits those who need it most.”

The bill is set to be discussed in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee later in the session.

Colleen Meidt is a science reporter at UPR as well as a PhD student at Utah State University. She studies native bees in the Mojave Desert and is particularly interested studying the conservation status of the Mojave Poppy Bee. In her free time, Colleen enjoys photography and rock climbing in the canyons.