Transit Riders Call for One Cent per Dollar Sales Tax Increase to Expanded UTA Service

uta-largeRepresentatives from the Utah Transit Riders Union (UTRU) were on Capitol Hill Wednesday advocating for improved transit service.

“We want to advocate for a system that is better for not only today, but for the next 20 to 40 years,” says Alex Cragun, who serves as treasurer of UTRU.

Cragun explained that the group is not against UTA. “We’re both in favor of the exact same thing, which is better public service, when it comes to consistent and reliable and affordable system. However, we disagree on how things are brought about.”

Chief among their proposals is an increase of the portion of the sales tax that goes to transit. UTRU is calling for the sales tax that goes towards UTA to be raised to 1 cent per dollar, which would be a 45 percent increase. The additional taxes would be contingent upon UTA providing increased service to riders. Ideally, the group would like everyone to be within one mile of a transit stop.

Also proposed is the creation of a community oversight committee, which would monitor the way UTA spends and allocates their money. The committee would be staffed by advocates and consumers. “Currently, their board of directors does have relationships with those people. However, I think having something integral into their structure would be also advantageous,” Cragun said. The group is also in favor of having two dedicated positions on UTA’s board – one would be for a transit rider, the other for a UTA employee who does not serve in an administrative capacity.

Christopher Stout, president of UTRU, stressed the importance of getting average citizens engaged in the process. “We’re stakeholders. Riders are stakeholders. This is one thing that we really want to push, that we get ordinary people on the board. And that that brings that customer focus back into focus.”

David Kallas, who serves as a senior advisor to UTA, says that UTA would love to increase all bus stop frequencies to every 15 minutes, rather than every 30 or 60 minutes. “What prevents us from doing that is cost. You have to have more buses. You have to have more operators, and then you have to have mechanics in the room to keep all that maintained.”

Formed earlier this year, UTRU is a nonprofit advocacy group. According to their mission statement, they hope to foster the development of a “transit-affirming culture” in Utah.

Editor’s Note: Alex Cragun is a writer for Utah Political Capitol. 

2 Replies to “Transit Riders Call for One Cent per Dollar Sales Tax Increase to Expanded UTA Service

  1. From a geographic standpoint, UTA does not serve the vast majority of the state in any capacity, so an increase in the state sales tax makes no sense. A better solution would be to transfer funding and administration to the counties which UTA serves and take it out of state hands altogether. Perhaps this could be administered by the Wasatch Front Regional Council. Alternately, if the counties served by UTA were to vote a 1% county sales tax to be allocated to UTA, that would be their prerogative. But for those of us in counties not served by UTA this is just another example of having our pockets picked by Salt Lake City and its suburbs. These funds need to stay at the local level where they can do good in our rural communities.

    1. Currently, cities and counties can set the sales tax rate to pay for transit districts. However, the authority for cities and counties to levy a sales tax comes from the state legislature and only the state legislature. The request made to the transportation committee was to raise the limit to 1%. If the bill is proposed and passes the next legislature, then any city or county that is within a transit district would be able to pass a resolution that would put the matter before voters. So, if Cedar City wanted, they could raise funds for the CATS — which is currently funded by UDOT and with city funds. Essentially, the funds stay in the transit district for use locally. With UTA, since the participating cities and counties are at various taxing levels, the agency has a formula to make sure that service levels match the amount of tax paid.

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