By Rebecca PALMER
When UTA project manager Bill Knowles explained the current South Davis Transit Study to the Clipper editorial board, one of the things he said struck me as particularly insightful.
The next generation is likely to use public transit much more than older ones have, he said. I immediately thought of my teenage siblings and how they have been much less interested in driving, and especially in owning cars, than I was. They just ride the bus and train everywhere, and see no shame in it.
At about the same time, articles came out in the national press with titles such as “Millennials strain America’s love affair with cars,” and “Study Indicates That America’s Driving Boom is Over,” both in response to a new study by the U.S. Public Research Interest Group, or PIRG.
It is clear to me that the transportation landscape is changing for good, and also that when we use public money to follow the trend, we must do so with the utmost caution and care.
Last week, the Bountiful City Council voted to give the Utah Transit Authority $15,000 for its part of an ongoing South Davis Transit Study.
Bountiful had declined to pay about a year ago and was being carved out of the study, although Davis County paid the city’s share of the cost, city administrators said. Other cities, such as Centerville, also declined to make the initial payment.
UTA officials disagreed that Bountiful was being left out, and we weren’t able to determine what had happened either way.
However, we sympathize with one of the other major concerns expressed by councilmembers.
For example, Councilmember Tom Tolman said that he has received many calls from UTA customers over the years complaining about their bus service being cut.
While we understand that no bus service routes have been changed recently, I have seen the quality of bus service in many areas throughout northern Utah decline in recent years. Some of this seems to have been a way to make expensive projects such as the Frontrunner train and multiple Trax lines financially possible.
In retrospect, I disagree with the decision to cut bus routes. Part of the reason we offer UTA .55 cents for every dollar spent here is so that it can provide full-fledged service to all residents, not just to relatively well-off commuters during rush hour.
Looking forward, we strongly encourage UTA to consider building out its bus service rather than spending more money to create any kind of rail lines here. Fast busses could be part of the solution, but even they are more expensive than traditional bussing.
It’s true that buses aren’t as shiny and fancy as other kinds of mass transit, but they are effective, and they do get used. They are also easy to reroute in case of emergencies, and new natural gas technology makes them cleaner and less smelly than ever.
The bus system would be used even more if the network becomes a reasonable alternative to car ownership. Today, it simply fails to meet that goal.
But if we could get there, perhaps my siblings and their generation will be more likely to be less reliant on cars. If we can accomplish that, our roads will be less congested and less expensive to build and maintain, our air quality is likely to improve and we could be confident that our public funds are being put to good use.