“Free Fare Friday” Highlights Opportunity to Improve Wintertime Air Quality by Increasing Transit Ridership

Free Fare Friday - Complimentary UTA rides on December 22, 2017

Complimentary Rides Throughout Wasatch Front on Dec. 22 to be Sponsored by Salt Lake City Council, Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams and UTA

SALT LAKE CITY – No fares will be charged for rides on the Wasatch Front’s transit network Friday, Dec. 22 – one of the biggest shopping days of the holiday season – thanks to an innovative partnership to raise awareness about the opportunity to improve wintertime air quality by boosting transit ridership.

The Salt Lake City Council, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Utah Transit Authority announced Tuesday they are teaming up to sponsor fares for the unique, one-day event. All day on Dec. 22, no fares will be required; bus drivers will be instructed not to accept fares and rail stations will be posted with signs indicating that no fares are required. UTA customers with electronic passes or who have a FAREPAY card will not need to “tap on” and “tap off” when boarding a bus or train, and riders who have purchased tickets on UTA’s mobile ticketing app, UTA GoRide, do not need to purchase or use a ticket on Friday. UTA’s standard adult fare is $2.50.

“One of the most frequent questions I’m asked – and one I’m sure most other elected officials hear every day – is ‘Why can’t the buses and trains be free to ride on Red Air Days?’” said Salt Lake City Council Chair Stan Penfold, who championed the demonstration project. “In my opinion, there’s no reason we can’t reduce or eliminate fares to get cars off the road, help improve air quality during inversions and prevent Red Air Days from happening in the first place, so why not try?” Penfold added that the City’s new Transit Master Plan cites the need to increase frequency and lower fares to encourage transit use.

“It’s clear that reducing the number of vehicles on our roads during inversions can decrease air emissions and improve air quality,” pointed out Mayor McAdams. “I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the health effects of breathing polluted air, particularly by children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions.” McAdams added that “poor air quality also affects our efforts to attract and retain businesses and talented workers, which is of great concern for one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.”

Benson expressed UTA’s thanks to the City Council and County Mayor for their interest and commitment to exploring novel approaches and raising awareness about how greater transit use can lead to sustainable long-term improvements in air quality.

“All of us are realistic, though, that eliminating fares for one day isn’t likely to have a significant effect on transit usage or air quality, but partnerships like this show that public officials know that better air quality can come with increased transit ridership, among other strategies,” Benson said, going on to praise the Salt Lake City and County officials for extending Free Fare Friday beyond their own jurisdictions to take in UTA’s entire six-county service area.

Vehicles release more than half of wintertime air emissions

Inversions are common weather conditions in the high mountain valleys along the Wasatch Front, particularly in winter and summer months. During wintertime inversions, cold air settles in the valleys and is trapped by warmer air above. Emissions released from vehicles, buildings and industry build up, mix with moisture and become smog that lasts until a change in the weather pattern disturbs the inversion and brings in cleaner air.

During winter inversions, one of the main pollutants is fine particulate matter called PM2.5, which is mostly caused by burning fuel and causes concern because these tiny airborne particulates can lodge in people’s and animals’ lungs and be hazardous to their health. Some 57 percent of all wintertime air emissions, and half of fine particulate pollution, come from car and truck exhaust.

Multiple programs are helping to improve air quality

Penfold, McAdams and Benson all noted that efforts are underway on several fronts to improve northern Utah’s air quality, citing the Salt Lake Chamber’s just-announced “Zero Red Air Days” initiative, projects to produce cleaner-burning fuels, and the work of nonprofit groups like UCAIR, among others.

“Efforts like Free Fare Friday contribute to the success of the long-term multi-pronged strategy championed by many in our community, including government agencies, businesses, community groups, nonprofits, and committed individuals,” said Mayor McAdams.

Such efforts are needed on a continued, sustained basis, said UTA President/CEO Benson. “We’ll see air quality benefits from newer cars and cleaner fuels, but the addition of an expected 2 million more people along the Wasatch Front by 2050 could outweigh gains from those improvements, leaving us with air quality that’s still unacceptable.

“I’m an optimist, though, and a strong believer that advances in technology and innovative partnerships like this one can help make big improvements in our air quality,” Benson said.

A holiday gift to try out transit

“We very much hope that both long-time commuters and first-time riders will take advantage of Free Fare Friday,” said City Council Chair Penfold. “What better time to offer complimentary transit fares than on a busy shopping day just before Christmas? So, this Friday, please ride transit to work, to finish your holiday shopping, to go a movie, to come downtown to see the lights, and to visit your favorite restaurant. Let’s all breathe a little easier this holiday season.”

 

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