Filling bus seats still a challenge for UTA
December 2, 2011
In just more than two weeks, the Utah Transit Authority will expand the new bus route linking Salt Lake City to Park City. While support for the new route is high, actually filling bus seats is another issue the route faces. The line has been in operation for nearly two months, but ridership to this point has been on the low side, a fact Park City Transit and Transportation Director Kent Cashel said he hopes will be changing as more options become available.
"We need to get increased ridership but we’re happy with what we’re seeing," Cashel said. "We’re seeing steady growth, but our peak time is going to be when we add the new service."
On Dec. 12th, the bus route will add an extra roundtrip to the three trips already offered in each direction every weekday and service for Saturday, Sunday and holidays. The new route was added as another option for commuters driving back and forth through Parley’s Canyon everyday, but the future of the bus route depends on whether or not commuters pick up on the service.
"Traffic has been pretty light for the first couple of months," said UTA spokesperson, Gerry Carpenter. "As hotels are finishing their hiring and bringing in workers every day, we expect those numbers to go up."
"If the buses fall short, Summit County and Park City will cover the operating cost," Carpenter added. "But if buses are full, they should pay for themselves."
But hotels and resorts have said the new route hasn’t made any visible impact on hiring.
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Stacie Moore, the St. Regis Deer Valley Director of Human Resources, said although her hotel was very excited about the route, she hasn’t seen any changes yet in hiring more Salt Lake City commuters.
"We think it’s going to be a good thing," Moore said about the route, "but it hasn’t impacted us yet."
Instead, Moore said most of her hiring has been from Kamas.
"I think it may be another season before it begins to pick up," she added. "It needs to go through a season and next year I think it will have a bigger impact."
Buses have been running since Oct. 3, but even in that short time buses have seen significant growth in ridership Cashel said. When the service first started the route may have seen 30 people in a day using the buses. November, that number was already closer to 100 people a day Cashel said.
"Generally, what you see is that with transit ridership there is a learning curve," he said. "It takes three years to reach full ridership. As we look at these numbers we have to take that into consideration."
But to break even, ridership numbers will need to increase to roughly 250 commuters a day Cashel said.
Chris Eggleton, the general manager of the Newpark Hotel in Park City, said he hasn’t personally seen any impact on his hiring but he has noticed people using the buses.
"With the bus route, it’s just too soon to tell," Eggleton said, "but I have noticed people using it."
To this point, local commuters traveling to Salt Lake City for work have dominated the route Cashel said. He hopes that the pattern will begin to shift more toward Salt Lake City commuters traveling to Park City and back.
"We believe the market is there, it will depend to some extent on the ability of the resorts to hire in the Salt Lake area and have people use these services," Carpenter said. "We hope to fill the buses so that the service can pay for itself."
If fares fall short, the city and county have already agreed to make up the difference in lost operating cost revenue to keep the route going.
Fare prices are $5.50 one way between Park City and Salt Lake City or less with a three-or 30-day pass. For information about bus schedule and drop off and pick up locations, visit http://www.rideuta.com and under route finder search for Route 902.