Parkites taking advantage of free transit system
Seeing an empty bus stop in Park City is becoming more and more rare at least between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. even during the off-season summer months.
Since the Park City Transit System implemented a free bus in 1977, ridership numbers have continually begged for more routes and more busses, while transit officials have been continually begging for more riders.
"It started out as a bus service for the ski areas; we even shut down during the spring and summer," said Eric Nesset, fleet and transit manager for Park City Municipal Corporation. "We went to year round-service in 1997 or 1998 and ridership has really been growing, especially since the Olympics. From 1997 to 2002 we were carrying about 1.2 million passengers a year, and last year we had 1.7 million passengers. We may reach 2 million passengers this year.
"We’re getting more and more commuters. We had the city route pretty well covered, but the county routes we added in 2002 have been a great area for growth."
He said that last year at this time ridership was at 1.2 million, but this year is already closing in on 1.4 million riders.
The increase in gas prices, more affordable housing and an express bus from Kimball Junction to the Park City Historic District have been big reasons why the increase in riders has been steady, he said.
Although there has been an increase throughout the system, which now only uses buses running on bio-diesel fuel, the county routes from Kimball Junction have carried much of the new load. Last week the Kimball Junction routes served 26,000 riders, while the same period last year saw only 11,000 take the bus.
The on-demand disabled bus has also increased in ridership. It now serves more than 6,600 locals and visitors a year.
Although much of the total ridership is made up of daily riders, another portion is made up of visitors or riders who use the system for special events, such as the Arts Festival.
"There will be park-and-ride lots at Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort to use during Arts Fest," he said. "Those are the two best places to park, and then ride the bus. Typically on Arts Fest Saturday and Sunday we’ll carry around 80,000 passengers. Normal for a day, for instance last week, we carry about 27,000 per day. But it works best for everybody if they try to use the bus instead of driving during the Arts Fest."
He said he hopes to be able to continue to increase the frequency of buses, and expand to other parts of the county, maybe all the way to Salt Lake City.
"We had a 5-year-plan that we completed in two and a half years," he said.
Kevin Callahan, Summit County Public Works administrator, said that, like many other resort communities, the transit system in Park City started as an amenity for visitors, but has become more tailored to locals as of late.
"We saw a big jump up when we started the express bus at the start of the year," he said. "There are probably some visitors on that bus, but logically it’s going to be a route for residents. We’ve even gotten cards and letters thanking us for the system. When we started we had a basic hourly service between Park City and Kimball Junction. In 2002 there were 50,000 county riders, in 2005 we carried 325,000 and we project 2006 ridership to be near 500,000. Within five years we’ve basically increased ridership ten times over."
Although there have many benefits to providing a free bus system to county residents, he said many go unnoticed.
"It’s helped to broaden the affordable housing base and that been beneficial," he said. "It’s also helped keep the traffic down on S.R. 224, as well as cut down air pollution. It’s a great amenity to the community to where people can pretty much access anything they want. Anybody who lives in the community who sees the benefits knows that without the system there would be a lot more traffic. It’s just a wise use of resources. Just as people have learned to use the TRAX system in Salt Lake, we can do that here. They say everybody is in love with their car, but you don’t need to be."
He suggested that people take the bus when they can, acknowledging that everybody can’t take the bus every day; however, he still encourages people to do their part to help raise the quality of living in Summit County.
"It’s fun to ride," he said. "It’s more social than driving a car. It also just fits into a larger strategy where we’re trying to manage our resources, provide a higher quality of life and make it more possible for people to work here. You can have a great experience and function in the community without your car."
For more information on the Park City Transit System, visit://www.parkcity.org/citydepartments/transportation/index.html online.
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