Many diverse voices were heard at UTA’s monthly board of trustees meeting last Wednesday. Unfortunately for the public, the meeting was held at 2:30 p.m. Only a few citizens—those whose work-hours permitted attendance, and the sporadically employed—could hear the concerns of those dedicated to improving the quality of Utah’s transit system. This inconvenient time helped to create the illusion of transparency (something that went out the window when UTA allegedly failed to report special incentives and bonuses to Utah’s transparency website) while also limiting the public presence at the meeting.
Of the grievances that were presented to the board of trustees—aside from complaints for the lack of amenities at transit stops and other similar issues—most citizens found fault with local bus services. Apparently, in order to fully fund the state’s then-new rail services (TRAX, Frontrunner, S-Line), funding to other areas of public transportation were cut, specifically the city bus. Service to these areas were supposed to be restored but, according to some of the people in attendance, they weren’t. It is important to note that while most members of the board were respectful and attentive to the concerns of those who voiced them, a few were grimacing throughout the public comment portion of the meeting and one member, Bruce Jones, pulled out his phone and played on it while an attendee had the floor.
The operating hours of bus services were also a concern, and received the most floor time at the meeting due to a petition authored and presented by public transportation advocate and SLUG writer/copy editor Alex Cragun. The petition, boasting a formidable 3300-plus signatures, points to a recent increase in ridership, and proposes that UTA extend their bus service hours later into the night. The reasoning is, that those whose work hours deviate from the traditional nine-to-five deserve access to public transportation like anyone else. The petition also points out that, with a bus system that operates regularly into the late hours of the night, drunk driving and other nocturnal driving transgressions may be less likely to occur.
In Cragun’s address to the board of trustees, he noted that, for most people, public transit is not a novelty or convenience, but a necessity. “I’m just a guy who’s trying to get home,” Cragun told trustees. In concluding his plea for later bus service, Cragun issued a challenge to the trustees that they themselves use public transportation for an entire week, and share their experiences on social media under the tag #7dayUTA. Three trustees, Kieth Bartholomew, Greg Hughes, and Necia Christensen accepted the challenge, and Cragun says that he will continue to urge board members to use and experience the public transportation system.
The fight for extended bus service didn’t end with the meeting on Wednesday. When asked what he will do if the board does not meet their demands for later service, Cragun said that he will “move up the chain of command: we’ll start talking to the State Legislature.” Cragun also urges those who have issues with the transit system, or any other system for that matter, to get involved. “Just try to change the system. Together, we can improve the world around us. I’m just some random dude that was fed up with UTA’s late night service and I have a few skills in organizing,” he says.
Independent of the petition, Cragun works with the Utah Transit Riders Union, which is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of public transit. If you want to get involved with the Utah Transit Riders Union (UTRU), or see the work that they’re doing, visit their Facebook page.