The goal is a simple one for Alex Cragun – expand the hours that the Utah Transit Authority’s buses and trains run in order to provide residents along the Wasatch Front with a greater mix of transit options that take cars off the roads and bolster the ridership numbers for the organization; an organization that has come under increased scrutiny for reducing services, low ridership numbers, increased debt, sagging revenues, and large bonuses to management.
Perhaps that is why Cragun has received such attention from the public, with his moveon.org petition receiving over 3,000 signatures as of Wednesday night, which was the goal he had set for August 27th.
The petition, penned by Cragun, states that “Late night transit enables more consumers and workers to participate in Utah’s growing economy, dollar for dollar. Buses and trains running a late schedule reduce risk to those who work late night and early morning shifts, preventing them from having to walk for hours down darkened streets.”
“Right now, some of UTA’s buses stop service at 10 pm on weekends and midnight during the week, while TRAX service stops at midnight,” Cragun told Utah Political Capitol. Cragun noted that the situation is only worse on weekends when, not only are buses and trains spaced further apart, but service ends several hours earlier when compared to their weekday counterparts.
“If you work late night shifts, or you can’t or don’t drive, you are not well serviced. Our goal is to expand those hours… I’ve had to walk the hour and a half home. I am in my 20’s, but I started thinking of everybody else. If you are a single mom, elderly, or disabled, [the current UTA timetables] become a real problem,” Cragun added.
“I have used UTA exclusively over the past 2 years, and it has not changed – and that is the problem,” Cragun explained as the main catalyst for starting the petition.
The public seems to agree. Public comments on the petition website include statements that people would be regular users of the public transit system during current after-hours schedules, that it would create a more vibrant downtown if people could take a bus or train at all hours, and that late night service could make the roads safer by providing drinkers an alternative to climbing into their car.
UTA, for its part, has cited the downturn in the economy and subsequent downturn in tax revenue as reasons for the reduction in service. Indeed, two thirds of UTA’s reported revenues of $309 million in expected 2013 revenue, $207 million, came directly from the .5 cent per dollar in sales tax levied on the county residents served by UTA.
When asked if this was the proper route for UTA, Cragun admits that he is “not a policy maker, I can’t say for certain…” if it was the right decision – but emphasized again that times have changed and that the justification for the current policy should be reevaluated.
“What matters,” Cragun noted, “is what happens on August 27th,” when the UTA board holds its next board meeting at a yet to-be-announced location. At that time, Cragun intends to present his petition to the board and hopes to fill the room with fellow petition signers to drive the point home. Cragun noted that there has been no direct comment from members of UTA at this time, however he has been working with someone at the transit authority to coordinate the rally in an organized and respectful way.
*Editor’s Note: Alex Cragun is a writer for Utah Political Capitol, however his actions have been independent of any UPC responsibilities. UPC has no formal position on the petition, late night service, or UTA.