High Valley Transit readies takeover of critical PC-SLC Connect bus route | ParkRecord.com

High Valley Transit readies takeover of critical PC-SLC Connect bus route

Utah Transit Authority to reduce services on Dec. 11

The Utah Transit Authority will shorten services along the 902 Park City-Salt Lake City Connect bus route starting Dec. 11. Many commuters rely on the connection — and the High Valley Transit District has stepped in to bridge the service gaps.
David Jackson/Park Record

The red-white-and-blue transit buses that allow commuters, skiers and visitors to easily travel through Parleys Canyon will be reduced starting next Sunday, but a new agreement spearheaded by a county agency will ensure the critical connection remains intact. 

The Utah Transit Authority will shorten services along the 902 Park City-Salt Lake City Connect bus route on Dec. 11 due to a driver shortage. The bus currently travels from Kimball Junction to the University of Utah and into downtown Salt Lake City; however, it will make one stop at the Olympus Cove park-and-ride in Millcreek – dropping five others – on the change date. 

Last week, the High Valley Transit District board of trustees signed a one-year contract with Snow Country Limo to bridge the gap using a 24-passenger limo bus, allowing riders who may have otherwise been displaced to utilize Summit County’s public transportation service at no cost. 

The majority of people who utilize the 902 are commuters and their hour-long trip could have doubled without emergency intervention, according to Caroline Rodriguez, the executive director of High Valley Transit.

“They have a very specific need … and most of them have decided to either live in Salt Lake and work up in Park City, or vice versa, specifically because they knew they could do so without a car,” she said. “Removing this connection, which is the only public transit connection, there are no other reasonable options.”

So the transit district stepped in. Rodriguez and the board learned the route was being reduced in September, around the same time as the general public. She credits board chair Kim Carson for leading the charge and encouraging High Valley Transit to brainstorm ways to reinstate services, especially for those traveling to the university area.

UTA is still working out an agreement with High Valley Transit that would allow passenger vans to pick people up along the bus route. Rodriguez said the transit district did its best to mimic the former route, although the schedule times aren’t final – and likely won’t be until days before the takeover. There may be three trips in the morning and evening during peak times. 

“Most of our riders do not ride every day, there’s a lot of shift work and three-days-a-week work. We have done a lot of outreach to our regular drivers to see where they’re driving to and we think the 24-passenger bus will accommodate everyone,” she said. “But we really have no other option.”

Without the connection, some riders may choose to drive a vehicle up and down an already congested Parleys Canyon. “It’s a very hard sell to tell somebody who actually has the resources to purchase a car, ‘No, don’t buy a car, and continue to commute via public transit. Your commute is two hours each way,’” Rodriguez said. “That person is certainly going to choose to buy a car and drive up the pass like everyone else when they had previously made the moral decision to get on public transit and be part of the solution.”

Carl Arky, who works in media relations for UTA, said the organization tried to spread out the impacts of having limited resources without pulling the service completely. He recognized the importance of the PC-SLC Connect, saying the UTA never wants to reduce services.

“What we’ve done is shorten the [902] route in the sense that it now goes to 3900 South Wasatch Boulevard, so that will require a connection, somebody who wants take the Park City-Salt Lake City Connect and they live in Salt Lake Valley, they’re going to have to catch another bus in all likelihood to get to the Wasatch park-and-ride,” Arky said. “We realize that’s not as convenient and we apologize for that.”

He pointed to the nationwide labor shortage and Utah’s near-2% unemployment rate as part of the problem. Arky said the UTA is struggling to hire quality drivers, and they want the best for people riding the 902 route as it can be tricky to navigate.

If conditions don’t improve, the UTA may have to reduce or cut other connections moving forward. The 902 is up for consideration, but so are the mass transit organization’s 500 to 600 other routes. Arky said planners will review ridership numbers and other factors after the holidays.

Negotiations with the UTA are still underway, but he indicated High Valley Transit will likely be able to proceed as planned.

High Valley Transit is expected to spend nearly $800,000 running the PC-SLC Connect route. It was already paying around $750,000 annually to UTA to provide the service, Rodriguez said, equating to an additional $50,000 that will be paid by the transit district. She hopes to reach a future agreement that would allow them to take on the route permanently. 

High Valley Transit is expected to spend nearly $800,000 running the PC-SLC Connect route. It was already paying around $750,000 annually to UTA to provide the service, Executive Director Caroline Rodriguez said. Now, they’ll pay an additional $50,000 to fund the service.
David Jackson/Park Record

The emergency effort to pick up the dropped stops has been a “heavy lift” for staffers, essentially becoming a full-time job for at least one planner, according to Rodriguez. They have been working on tight timelines to make the transition work while frequent 902 riders have helped disseminate the latest updates. 

In addition to its accidental expansion into the Salt Lake Valley, High Valley Transit recently branched into Wasatch County. The two entities entered into a three-year, $3 million contract to provide public bus services between Wasatch and Summit counties as well as micro-transit services in the Heber Valley. There is no cost to ride. 

Rodriguez is a firm believer in public transportation and had always hoped High Valley Transit, which began services in July 2021, would grow this quickly. She noted a new stop at Blackrock Resort on the 102 Gateway route that started Thursday, a common request over the years.

“Once folks give [public transit] a try, they generally find out it can work for them or be a value added to their life … I think our customers have shown they’re willing to ride,” she said. “Public transit in general is intended to provide folks a way to participate in their community. It’s critical to the Wasatch Back that everybody has the means and opportunity to move through their community – and part of that is reliable transportation.”

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