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A trip up the canyon

Salt Lake commuter bus has perks

Jerry Jones is a part-time UTA bus driver. He says taking the bus from Salt Lake City to Park City has economic and environmental benefits.
Frances Moody/ Park Record

It was 23 degrees outside on Dec. 8 at 7:45 a.m., but Maria Corral still stood at a Salt Lake City bus stop the same as she always does five days a week.

Bundled in a green down coat and wearing a white-knit hat, Corral said being cold for a mere five minutes is worth the perks provided by the 57- passenger vehicle that takes her to Park City, where she works.

“I like that I don’t have to worry about driving every day,” she said, exhaling a cloud of fog.

Corral is one of the near 250 passengers who take the SLC to PC Connect each day. She and a few others riding the Thursday morning bus told me there are several reasons they don’t drive up Parley’s Canyon to get to work.

Amy Krull said she does it because her employers pay the fare. Ioana Andor said she has no other way to get to her job. They all acknowledged the environmental and economic benefits the trip offers.

Exploring such perks is why I embarked on what was a 41-minute journey from UTA’s 2100 East stop in Salt Lake City to Park City Transit’s one on Park Avenue in Park City.

The Connect route began in 2011, when Park City and Summit County struck a deal with Utah Transit Authority (UTA) to pay $470,000 per year for the authority’s vehicles to make the trip up the canyon. UTA signed on to pay another $180,000 to make it happen.

Several Park City employers, such as Park City Mountain Resort and Skullcandy, also got on board, agreeing to buy passes for workers.

It’s better for the environment

Since 2012, the number of passengers who use the commuter alternative increased by more than 20 percent. UTA Spokesperson Remi Barron said he understands why the number of riders is up. He noted the same reasons Corral, Krull and Andor listed to explain why the use public transportation. The environmental benefit is at the top of Barron’s roster.

“Every car that comes up the road helps put hundreds of pounds of particulate matter in the atmosphere per year,” he said. “That’s why taking the bus for environmental concerns is an obvious benefit.”

Krull, who lives in Salt Lake City because it is more affordable, said part of the reason she doesn’t drive five days a week to Skullcandy is to decrease her carbon footprint.

“I usually take the bus three or four times a week,” she said. “One reason I do it is because it’s better for the environment.”

Krull also said it’s less expensive for her to take the bus rather than drive, since her employer pays for her to board the vehicle when she can.

Does it save money?

But do people who aren’t subsidized by their workplace also reap economic benefits?

Last month, I spent $160.26 on gas to fuel my 2012 Subaru Outback to drive the 27.8 miles from my house in Salt Lake City to The Park Record’s building five days a week. A bus pass worth a month of rides is $162.00.

While the pass and the fuel are nearly equal, it takes extra money to pay for the wear and tear my car gets from driving up the canyon. Barron said vehicle maintenance should be taken into account.

“It is actually much more affordable for people to take the bus than it is to own a car,” Barron said. “You’re not just talking about wear and tear on the car, but also fuel and cost of insurance.”

Barron also said the buses that drive from and to Park City and Salt Lake City are designed to handle bad weather.

“A lot of these buses that go up and down these canyons have specially designed wheel bases, tires and even automatic chains that can be deployed to help with the bad weather,” Barron said.

Routes and schedules

Krull said while there are quite a few reasons to take the bus to Park City, there is one new obstacle with a change in the bus route, which went into effect Nov. 30.

The Connect bus used to stop at Newpark, near Skullcandy. Now it goes to the Kimball Junction Transit Center. Krull said she sometimes has to wait 15 minutes for a Park City Transit bus to take her closer to work.

“Sometimes I just end up walking because it’s faster,” she said.

Destry Pollard, a Park City Transit team leader, said he is working out the schedule kinks.

“We will work on making those connections better as we move on,” he said. “We were trying to streamline the service, so that we weren’t meandering around over to Newpark and back out again.”

Pollard also hopes to have another bus that departs mid-morning, since he gets a lot of requests from people who work later in day. For now, there are three early morning buses; Two travel form Salt Lake City and one drives from Park City.

“It would make sense to have a bus leave at 10 a.m.,” he said. “We are looking into those things and thinking about how we are going to improve with this new tax initiative that was recently passed.”

Despite hearing a few schedule complaints, Pollard said he gets positive input for the most part. He said people enjoy taking the bus. He should know since he sometimes drives the route as a part-time UTA employee.

On Dec. 8, Krull took advantage of the free time she gets from using public transportation by reading “A Man Called Ope” on the way up.

I also enjoyed the trip, considering — for the first time in a while — I didn’t feel anxious about putting my driving skills to the test to make it to work. It was also nice to know the trip only took 10 minutes longer than when I drive.

Nonetheless, the one thing Pollard is most proud of is the bus brings people to Park City who otherwise would not be able to work in the area.

Corral said being able to use the commuter alternative made it so she could keep working in Park City. She owns a housekeeping business that has operated in the mountain town for more than 20 years. Corral recently moved to Salt Lake where her daughter lives to spend time with her new grandchild.

Riding the bus is now part of her daily regimen, and Corral says she loves the experience since she gets to chat with friends on the ride up. On the cold morning I met her, she sat in the front row with a friend. They talked until the vehicle stopped in Kimball Junction.

The SLC to PC Connect has two routes, one that starts in Salt Lake City and one that begins in Park City. A one-way trip is $4.50, while a monthly pass costs $162. Visit http://www.rideuta.com for bus schedules and other details.


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