High Valley Transit celebrates two years and 2 million riders

There was a 41% increase in total fixed route rides and a 113% increase in micro rides between July 2022 and July 2023

High Valley Transit began its on-demand micro transit services on May 17, 2021, with its fixed-route bus service launching that July. The transit district has provided more than 2 million rides across Summit County since then, helping to reduce traffic and increase mobility all for free.
Park Record file photo by David Jackson

A white, circus-like tent has been standing in the Ecker Hill park-and-ride for more than two years. While it may look unassuming from the outside, the interior houses an intricate set of operations that’s helped take a significant number of cars off the road.

The High Valley Transit District was formed in May 2021 without an example to mirror. But the Summit County Council, which recognized the growing need for public transit across the Wasatch Back, saw it as an opportunity to provide a new kind of service with a huge return.

“It was absolutely learning as you go,” said Executive Director Caroline Rodriguez. “I think everybody involved brought their life experience and work experience to the table, but High Valley Transit operates in such a manner that really there’s no model to follow. While it’s a benefit that people have different experiences, it’s also somewhat perilous in that you’re taking a chance.”

It was a big change for Parkites at first as the creation of High Valley Transit meant a separation from Park City Municipal, which focused on providing services within the Park City limits. Rodriguez recognized it may have been confusing at some points, but she said the community listened when they were encouraged to take their first ride.

High Valley Transit began its on-demand micro transit services on May 17, 2021, with its fixed-route bus service launching that July. The transit district has provided more than 2 million rides across Summit County since then, helping to reduce traffic and increase mobility all for free.

Last July, there were 48,334 rides served across five fixed routes and 12,592 total micro transit rides. High Valley Transit saw a 41% increase in total fixed route rides and a 113% increase in micro rides during the same month this year. Around 30% of High Valley Transit riders use the micro transit service, which allows people to book a ride from an app.

“It feels unreal. When we first started thinking and planning, we knew there was an unmet need, but we had no idea we would be this successful immediately,” Rodriguez said. “The feeling is still pretty much the same (as when High Valley Transit first started) and that is an overwhelming sense of wanting to serve this community with something that we knew was absolutely needed and always being concerned, ‘Are we doing it efficiently, affordably, and are we delivering on our promises?’ I felt that two and a half years ago, I felt that a year ago. We still look at that every day and say, ‘Are we doing what we set out to do?'”

Rodriguez added Summit County is unique because many people ride public transit by choice, to be sustainable, for example, rather than by necessity. 

She overheard a music instructor talking about her commute from Provo to Silver Springs using High Valley Transit. The woman takes the FrontRunner into downtown Salt Lake City and then hops onto the 107, which replaces the Utah Transit Authority’s 902 PC-SLC Connect, into Park City before she rides the 101 Spiro for another 17 stops to reach her destination. The woman told Rodriguez the commute changed her life because it gave her a way to relax and knit while saving her thousands of dollars every year.

High Valley Transit operates seven routes with the most riders opting for the 101 Spiro/224 Local line. The bus runs every 15 minutes from 5:45 a.m. to 11:35 p.m. seven days a week. The route runs from Jeremy Ranch to Deer Valley and provided 45,194 rides in July 2023 and 34,866 during the same month in 2022.

The 103 Kimball Junction shuttle, the 104 Bitner shuttle and the 105 Canyons Village shuttle are neighborhood circulation routes. The buses served 19,723 rides in July 2023.

The 102 Gateway/Kamas Valley commuter, the 106 Wasatch Back Connector and the 107 are the transit district’s commuter lines. These routes only run during peak times. However, Rodriguez said they are vital because they are the only transit connections to those areas.

And High Valley Transit expanded into Wasatch County in November 2022 to help provide even more critical links. The three-year, $3 million agreement will bring buses and micro transit services to the Heber Valley at no cost to riders. The Wasatch Back Connector provided 148 rides between Heber City and Park City during the first week of service.

“The biggest thing we’ve noticed is the very high rate of adoption in Wasatch County, which is frankly astounding for an area that’s never had public transit. On the Summit County side, people were used to transit … In Wasatch County, it wasn’t a thing. It was brand new,” Rodriguez said. 

She said micro transit ridership dipped slightly after the ski season, but it has since leveled off and remains high. This shows her it’s locals who are opting to use High Valley Transit. Sometimes, Rodriguez said, they’re even riding multiple times a day. 

High Valley Transit is fare-free because it doesn’t want cost to be a barrier to use. Rodriguez said fares are regressive and have the highest impact on the people who can least afford them. They also don’t cover the cost of service. High Valley Transit is funded in part by sales and transportation tax revenues. 

“We have extended transit service by more than 25% in terms of access and span (or hours) of service. Jeremy Ranch, Summit Park, Silver Creek, none of those folks had service — not to mention Wasatch County,” Rodriguez said. “And in just two years, we’ve been able to open up this whole stream of services for people who are otherwise unserved.”

Besides the overall growth of the transit district, Rodriguez said the biggest difference is how the organization is run. High Valley Transit has moved to in-house services rather than relying on the county or contractors. It has a dedicated fixed-route staff of about 50 and a committed maintenance team which help keep operations running smoothly.

And why has High Valley Transit found such success?

“Because we took a chance,” Rodriguez said. She credited the County Council with investing in the idea full force. “We took a chance on a fairly new technology, a fairly new way of approaching a well-established service, and big risk means big reward.”

High Valley Transit broke ground on its new $24 million headquarters in October 2022. The new facility will help the transit district continue and expand its mission of improving accessibility.
Park Record file photo by David Jackson

The transit service isn’t just about providing rides. It strives to give people access to their communities by helping them get there. High Valley Transit helps transport riders to school, doctor’s appointments, work or even important public hearings and events in their neighborhood.

High Valley Transit in October 2022 broke ground on its new $24 million headquarters near Home Depot off U.S. 40. Officials expect the much-needed facility will help shape the future of transportation across the Wasatch Back.

The project will support the High Valley Transit mission by creating an 11,000-square-foot maintenance shop, an 18,000-square-foot administrative building and a 31,000-square-foot bus barn. When it’s completed, it will house 24 full-size buses as well as parking for smaller vehicles, a fuel station and the possibility of employee housing. It’s slated to be completed in September 2024.

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