UTA is investing in the future while ensuring that riders have a reliable, affordable transportation system today, Jerry Benson, UTA president/CEO, told the UTA Board of Trustees in a recent presentation of the 2018 tentative budget. This year's budget includes a new UTA department tasked with developing innovative transportation solutions. It also includes more bus service, improved security features and maintenance projects designed to keep the system in good repair.
“People want more and better transit,” Benson said. “This budget tries to address, to the extent we can, opportunities to improve our service for our customers."
The UTA Board of Trustees approved the tentative budget. UTA is now preparing to gather public feedback on the budget before it goes before the board for final approval in the December meeting. The public feedback period began Nov. 1 and ends on Nov. 30. Individuals and organizations can comment online, by mail or phone.
In 2018, UTA plans to create an innovative mobility solutions office to evaluate new transit concepts and technology and develop forward-thinking pilot programs. Benson said this program will help UTA capitalize on trends shaping the public transit industry, such as autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, vehicle sharing and transportation voucher programs.
“I appreciate the focus on innovations and technology and always looking at opportunities to create efficiencies within the system,” said Charles Henderson, UTA board of trustees member.
The budget also includes the new Provo Orem TRIP bus rapid transit (BRT) line, which will begin service in August 2018, seven months ahead of schedule. The line will run on a 10.5-mi. route through Provo and Orem, providing riders with a convenient connection to BYU and UVU, shopping centers and other major community destinations.
Recent increases in property costs and construction expenses have impacted public and private projects across the state, Benson said, including the BRT line. Although expenses related to the BRT project have increased by 6.8 percent, UTA is still on track to complete the project in time for the start of the 2018 school year. College students will be able to start the school year car-free and still be able to reach key destinations throughout the community, Benson said.
“It's an early opening, and it's going to make a big, big difference to those students,” he said.
UTA also plans to use Prop 1 funds to increase bus service in Weber and Davis counties by 6 percent. Bus service system-wide will increase by 3 percent.
Directional signage, known as wayfinding signs, will be improved to help riders better navigate the rail and bus system and reach their final destinations. The agency also will add security cameras on TRAX to help improve system safety.
Vehicle and system maintenance is also a priority in the 2018 Tentative Budget. UTA plans to replace sections of TRAX rail to ensure that the 15-year-old system remains in top operating condition. The agency plans to add 29 new buses, two trolley-style buses, 29 paratransit vehicles and 75 vans to ensure that the fleet is ready to meet the demands of increased service. UTA also plans to purchase its first all-electric buses in 2018.
UTA's budget priorities are set based on strategic priorities created by the board and a guiding set of priorities referred to as UTA's True Norths: service, people, environment, community and stewardship.
This year's budget expenses include bus service additions and early debt retirement contributions to pay down existing bonds. New bonding, planned since 2010, will be used solely for capital expenses on projects like Provo Orem TRIP, the Airport TRAX Station relocation and major system repair projects.
Benson said bonding will allow UTA to continue essential capital maintenance work and honor contractual commitments, while also increasing service levels, maintaining existing service and keeping equipment in good repair.
“We think it's a prudent measure on our part,” Benson said. “As we look at our long-term financial plan, we want to make sure we don't offer services to the public only to pull them back a few years later because the funding isn't there.”
UTA has seen the cost of everything from office supplies and utilities to bus tires and locomotive engines increase in recent years, Benson said, adding that the agency is examining ways to reduce costs and minimize the impact of this regional inflation. Some initiatives, like a plan to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by conducting rail maintenance in-house, are already under way.
“As we developed this budget, we challenged every department head to find ways to reduce costs,” he said. “There are dozens of these [cost-saving measures] embedded in the budget.”