Summit County creates transit district to operate its own bus lines
Fisher: ‘Huge step’ in split from Park City Transit
One of the last orders of business for the Summit County Council in 2020 may impact the way people move around the Wasatch Back for decades to come, though officials hope transit riders won’t be able to tell any difference, at least at first.
The council last week unanimously approved an ordinance governing the structure and rules for the Snyderville Basin Public Transit District, drastically reshaping an entity that has technically existed for 15 years, but that will now employ staff, own buses and operate transit lines.
Starting July 1, the district will operate the mass transit programs in unincorporated Summit County and soon, officials hope, in municipalities and neighboring areas outside of the county, as well.
Summit County’s new transit district is seeking a name. To weigh in, visit surveymonkey.com/r/GGYC9LB.
The move is in some ways the culmination of a lengthy effort to split the county’s transit operations from Park City Transit, though much work remains to be done to meet the July 1 deadline for the new district to take over operations of the county’s bus lines. It comes amid a massive drop-off in ridership due to the pandemic that officials have said provides a unique opportunity to reshape transit services.
The county has contracted with transportation company Via Transportation Inc. to plan operations for the new district, and officials anticipate entering into a roughly $3 million contract for the firm to operate the county’s bus lines this summer.
Park City officials have said Park City Transit has reached its capacity and that any expansion should be led by Summit County. Now, the county has officially created an entity officials hope is capable of leading a regional effort.
“If you talk about a huge step, this is a huge step, because we’re forming an entity that will be operating on its own to provide services to the broader county and, clearly, from the objectives, beyond the county,” Summit County Tom Fisher said.
Park City Transit operates the vast majority of mass transit in the area, and Summit County contributes millions of dollars to it annually, a number that has continued to grow.
Before the pandemic hit, the county was budgeted to contribute $8.5 million to Park City Transit in 2020, a system that has a $14.9 million operating budget and millions more in capital costs.
Much of that money comes from regional sales taxes approved by the county and collected throughout the area, including within municipal limits. Officials are still working out how to disentangle finances, Fisher said, including discussing how certain sales taxes will be allocated, what will happen with the portion of capital assets like buses the county helped to purchase and what the fund balances — or savings — will be used for.
The County Council’s No. 1 strategic goal remains mitigating traffic congestion, and officials have long said mass transit was the key to solving the problem. In recent years, county councilors have chafed at their lack of control of transit programming and what they see as lackluster results for transit needs in the greater Snyderville Basin, including around Kimball Junction.
Now, the county has the ability to increase the level of service.
Park City Transit has recently added service to Kamas, Quinn’s Junction and Summit Park. That’s in addition to the 10 White express line that runs from Kimball Junction to the Old Town transit center and the 8 Brown line that serves the Trailside neighborhood.
County officials envision a larger regional transit network that will eventually grow to include Wasatch County, Hideout and the Mayflower Mountain Resort, which is being built in the Military Installation Development Authority project area around the Jordanelle Reservoir.
Officials have repeatedly discussed the need to plan for the explosion of residential growth already under construction around the reservoir, and the other projects that have been approved but have yet to be built.
Park City Councilor Steve Joyce represents Park City on the Joint Transit Advisory Board that also includes county officials, and has commented at multiple public meetings about the county’s process to start its own transit program.
He has expressed concern that Park City won’t have a meaningful seat at the table to influence the district’s growth and suggested that the plan’s structure incentivizes other entities like Wasatch County to start their own transit districts, rather than joining Summit County’s.
The ordinance the County Council approved requires entities to impose certain sales and use taxes to annex into the district, a prospect officials have indicated Wasatch County has not embraced.
County Councilor Kim Carson said this fall that the first step was to establish the district, which will lean heavily on county resources at first, and then eventually transition to a regional system as other governments join.
One of the key aspects of the district’s new structure, Fisher said, is that it is now able to apply for federal transit grants. He further indicated that the county and Park City would continue to work together to pursue bus rapid transit on S.R. 224, a project with an estimated price tag near $80 million, and that the jointly financed 10 White express bus line would continue to run from the county to within the Park City limits.
Fisher said that if a rider would have to get off the bus at a city boundary, “we haven’t achieved the goals that have been set out.”
The county has already advertised for a transportation planner position for the district, and the council approved adding three new positions, in addition to moving two county staffers into the new entity.
Fisher said he does not anticipate the district levying property taxes, though it is empowered to do so, and indicated its funding would continue to come from sales taxes and, possibly, user fees.
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The Summit County Council is poised to extend its order allowing school mask requirements at a meeting Monday. No school is close to the case-number threshold, according to state data.