Many Americans still associate public transportation with long-established urban systems, such as the New York City subway, the Boston T, or the Chicago L. But public transportation reaches more communities of all sizes than ever before, and great innovations are emerging in some unexpected places.
Now the Wasatch Front region of central Utah can proudly claim that it has a world-class public transportation system. Earlier this summer, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) received the 2014 Outstanding Public Transportation System award from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
UTA’s core service territory spans three counties: Weber County in the north, Salt Lake County in the middle, and Utah County on the south end, with bus service that reaches into three additional counties: Davis, Box Elder, and Tooele. Altogether, the system covers 1,600 square miles and serves 80 percent of the state’s population. The multi-modal system includes buses, a commuter train, light rail, a streetcar line, paratransit service, and bus rapid transit. In addition to providing transportation for city and suburban commuters, UTA provides service to and from local ski areas and helps meet the transportation needs of residents of the numerous smaller towns along the Wasatch mountain range.
Rapid Expansion Earns UTA Deserved Recognition
UTA’s national award reflects the system’s stunning achievements over the last few years, culminating in a record 2013 that saw the opening of four new rail lines and more than 44 million boardings. In just five years, UTA built 70 miles of rail, including heavy commuter rail, light rail, and a streetcar line. This massive public transportation expansion was completed two years ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget.
“UTA is the best large public transportation system in North America,” said APTA president and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “As a leader in innovation, both in operations and sustainability, UTA is a role model for other public transit agencies.”
Learning from UTA’s Example
UTA is a model public transportation system because of its commitment to innovation, efficiency, and sustainability. Fundamentally, too, UTA and its supporters have succeeded by being both ambitious and realistic. In carefully measured—but rapidly implemented—steps, the system has added new and expanded services. Success has led to more success, as ridership has mushroomed and previous skeptics have been won over.
The system has also benefited from having committed and vocal political support, with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker serving as a key promoter and coalition builder. You can help win improved and expanded public transportation in your region by supporting local elected officials and candidates who make public transportation a cornerstone of their leadership.