House approves measure to create more UTA free fare days

(KCPW News) One way to reduce air pollution in Utah: get more people riding public transit. One way to get more people on trains and busses: make them free to ride.

A measure to pay for 17 days of free transit days over the next 3 years cleared the Utah House of Representatives on Monday.

Rep. Joel Briscoe says his bill is about trying to get ahead of bad air days in Utah.

“This fund of 1.2 million dollars would fund 17 days of free fare transit,” he said.

“The money would go to the Division of Air Quality where the meteorologists and scientists would say, like they did in December 2016, ‘hey we see a bad inversion coming – give people three days notice… can you work at home next week? If you can’t, can you carpool? If you can’t carpool – if you need to get out – can you use public transit? And to incentivize you to use public transit, it’s free.”

Rep. Briscoe said a component of his bill would be about tracking the effectiveness of the free fare days, but he said that it was an already proven idea.

“This was done in December of 2017, on December 22nd – about 14 months ago – on a one day trial period and [there was a] 23 percent ridership increase [and] another 19,000 people boarded,” he said.

“It took a lot of cars off the road.”

Briscoe said the measure would cost about $70,000 per day that UTA trains and buses were free to ride. That funding would largely go to cover UTA’s losses for uncollected fares.

House Bill 353 cleared the chamber on a 47-26 vote and now heads to the state senate.