If we want more transit we should focus on demand

A few friends recently shared a petition on Facebook asking the Utah Transit Authority to operate its FrontRunner commuter rail on Sundays. When I saw it, the petition had nearly 1,700 signees.

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It’s a good idea. Plenty of people travel up and down the Wasatch Front on Sundays and without the rail line they have no choice but to drive. In my own case, I typically meet family in a neighboring county on Sundays and I’d love to be able to take public transit. For those reasons, I hope the petition is successful.

But I can’t help thinking it won’t be. Or, that it can’t be. And on top of that, I wonder if there would be more effective ways to get the FrontRunner to stay open on Sundays.

The problem, at least if I understand UTA’s perspective, is that there’s just not enough demand for regional transit on Sundays. Many of us want to use commuter rail on Sundays, but a handful of individuals is not enough to financially support running a train all day.

The petition also reminds me of another effort asking UTA to run light rail TRAX trains until 2:30 a.m. That too is a great idea — except that TRAX used to run late until the service was discontinued after sufficient demand never materialized.

From the late-night TRAX situation we learn that UTA has a demanded-based service model. So, a petition might get officials to run commuter rail on Sundays, but probably not.

I think a better use of everyone’s time would be a more concerted effort to create transit-friendly communities. Petition local governments to stop giving away free parking, eliminate parking minimums, beef up bike infrastructure, allow major increases in density, etc. These are all things that we fall short on right now — many Utah communities continue to build extremely car-oriented neighborhoods — but that if that changed it would help drive more demand for public transit. In time, that should translate to more transit, including on Sundays, for all of us.

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One comment

  1. Emily S.

    Yeah–this is tricky. Like most people, I thought having the TRAX in operation until the bars close seems like a good idea, and I was surprised to learn that it used to (but stopped for the reasons you mention). It’s hard to demonstrate demand without periodic experiments like that, though. Interest is one thing (I’d sign a petition), but use is another (how many will actually ride on Sundays?). Also, are there other, non-demand based ways UTA might operate? For me, the value of getting drunk people out of cars and onto the TRAX might be worth it, even if it’s low demand. (And certainly, the known/measured demand is 0 as long as it’s not an option.)

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