Park City-SLC bus route explored
July 4, 2008
Shantel Sorensen figures some of her workers at Red Rock Junction would prefer to catch a bus to work instead of driving themselves to the Redstone Towne Center brewpub from Salt Lake City.
They would like to save money on gasoline, and some of the staffers would probably be happy someone else is driving the route through Parleys Canyon and over Parleys Summit.
"The drive, with all the semis and people just so anxious to get where they’re going, it would be relaxing," Sorensen, the brewpub’s general manager, says.
There is not a public-sector bus that runs between Salt Lake City and Park City, however, and at least one attempt by a private-sector bus operator was not successful. City Hall, Summit County leaders and state transportation officials, though, have negotiated an agreement that calls for the three sides to cooperate as they design a bus route between Summit County and Salt Lake City. Park City and Summit County leaders have approved the deal, and the state officials are expected to do so on July 9.
There was little interest by regular Parkites as the three governments negotiated, but it is a landmark deal nonetheless. In the agreement, the parties pledge to study whether there is demand for a bus route, where the buses should stop and what sort of buses are needed. They also agreed to consider how the route could be financed, and they acknowledged they would cooperate as they seek federal and state funding.
Government leaders have for years yearned for a Park City-Salt Lake City bus route, saying it would be especially popular with Salt Lake City workers employed in Park City. It could also be attractive with skiers and snowboarders in Salt Lake City, they say, as an alternate to the skier buses that climb into the mountain resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons.
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The three sides must now conduct detailed studies into a bus route, including data about how much commuters are willing to pay and what times the buses should run. One of the key figures anticipates a route, if it is put in place, would start in 2012, at the earliest.
Kent Cashel, the deputy director in the Park City Public Works Department and City Hall’s primary representative in the talks, says planning the route could take at least a year. After that, the governments would need to purchase buses before a route could debut. He says it appears there is solid demand for a route running from Park City to the university district and downtown Salt Lake City. There is also demand from Salt Lake City to Park City, he says.
A nonscientific survey in late 2005 found 89 percent of those polled who commuted from Salt Lake County to the Park City area said they would ride what was called an "express bus." Fifty-six percent said they would ride a bus five days per week. The same survey found 85 percent of those asked in the Park City area said they would ride an express bus to Salt Lake County.
The results, though, are almost three years old. It is unclear whether the opinions would change significantly if another poll was conducted. Higher gas prices today compared to late 2005 could increase the percent of people interested in a bus route. Nationally, Cashel says, 5 or 6 percent of commuters are willing to use a transit service. If that figure held in a Park City-Salt Lake City route, Cashel says, 2,000 people might use it each day.
Cashel says in a report to Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council startup costs could reach $3.6 million, and operating costs could climb to between $2.2 million and $3 million in the first year.
At the Redstone brewpub, Sorensen, a supporter of the idea, says a bus between Park City and Salt Lake City would need to run until the late-night hours for her workers to ride the route. Some are not ready to leave until midnight or so, she says, adding workers probably would pay up to $3 each way for a bus.
Park City and Summit County have greatly expanded the bus routes on the West Side, with lines now stretching from the Old Town transit center anchor to the S.R. 224 corridor and into outlying neighborhoods like Pinebrook and Silver Summit.
Up until recently, the bus system did not leave the Park City boundaries. With the expansion, transportation planners have wide-ranging options as they plot a route between Park City and Salt Lake City. It seems conceivable a bus traveling the route would have its Park City-area terminal somewhere in the Snyderville Basin, potentially at a transit hub that might be built close to Kimball Junction. The riders could then move to the West Side’s bus system.
"Everybody will ride it as long as it’s going where they want to go" and the fare is reasonable, Cashel says.
Earlier route failed
A private-sector transportation company in 2006 launched a Park City-Salt Lake City worker shuttle, but stopped the service soon after it started because few people rode the route.
It debuted to fanfare but lasted just several weeks at the beginning of the busy ski season. Lewis Stages offered the service, and roundtrip fare was $8.
The Park City Chamber/Bureau assisted in setting up the route and promoted the line. Chamber/Bureau Executive Director Bill Malone says it remains unclear why the 2006 route failed to draw enough riders. He says the bus schedule might not have been convenient and gas prices then were lower than they are now.
"I’m not sure what went wrong. We had good locations," he says.
Lewis Stages ran buses in the morning, afternoon, evening and at night. The route included several stops in the Park City area and in Salt Lake City.
"The Salt Lake route just never gained traction," Malone says.