Utah Transit Authority’s distance-based fare test focuses on BYU

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Utah Transit Authority began a 50 cents-per-mile fare test for BYU students, faculty and staff so UTA could analyze fares and see if distance-based bus fares could be cost-efficient.

Normal one-way bus tickets are $2.50. The new distance-based fare test covers two miles around BYU campus. Trips within this target area would be $1. That’s a $1.50 cut for riders who live in the area, but those who live outside the range are not included and would still have to pay the regular cost.

The Route 830 bus waits at the Provo Frontrunner Station. (Natalia Rogers)
The Route 830 bus waits at the Provo Frontrunner Station. (Natalia Rogers)

UTA spokesman Remi Barron said this new test is part of UTA’s fare analysis project. “We have some other arrangements with universities (and businesses),” Barron said. “But we’ve never really looked at distance-based fares in a scientific way.”

This test, called a beta test, could indicate the fare’s effectiveness because the sample size of BYU’s population and traveled distances could represent bigger-scale populations and communities.

“We look at routes that are short enough and controlled enough that we could see how they react,” Barron said. “The routes seemed to fit with the study we needed to do.”

The program is relevant to some BYU commuters because of the easy, cheap connection routes forged between home and work or school. “The pilot program was designed specifically for BYU students, faculty and staff living within two miles of campus using routes 830, 832 and 835,” UTA’s website says.

Charges come at a minimum of 50 cents per mile and a maximum $2.50 charge. All miles will be rounded up, the UTA website says, so going even just more than a mile would result in a $1, or two-mile, charge. If a rider doesn’t tap off the bus, there will be a $2.50 charge.

Distance-based fare cards are preloaded with $5 and only work with a minimum balance of $2. Riders are responsible for adding money to the card. Funds deduct automatically after a rider has tapped on and off a bus with the card. The geographic distance between two stops, not the distance the bus travels, calculates mileage.

Georgia Rasmussen, who works with the pilot program at UTA, said that as of 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, ninety-five people from BYU have signed up for the program.

“We’ve been encouraged by the numbers that have taken part so far,” Barron said. “More people seem to be signing up all the time.”

Sheralyn Reid, a junior studying psychology at BYU, lives in Orem. She said this could benefit people who live close to campus, but she’s disappointed she can’t benefit from the fare like others. She would like to avoid the drawbacks of driving to and parking near campus.

“I think that people in the two-mile radius could walk even in bad weather and still get to school okay,” Reid said. “But people like me who live farther away can’t. I think that this distance-based fare is a step in the right direction, but … it’s still unfair.”

The UTA website acknowledges that as a beta test, it may have flaws. UTA officials encourage participants to give feedback.

Riders can add funds to cards online, in person at the BYU Store or in other locations the cards are sold. Participants can also add money or set up auto pay options after signing up for an online FAREPAY account.

These new fare cards are non-transferrable and don’t apply to bus transfers. They do not work on other bus routes, express buses, ski buses, paratransits, TRAX or FrontRunner. The test should last one year. Riders can use leftover funds at the end of the year to pay standard fares.

UTA teams will be studying things like how many people traveled one mile, two miles, three miles or just maxed out the $2.50 charge.

“We aren’t really able to gauge the usage until the study’s over,” Barron said. “But so far, so good.”

Riders can find and download bus schedules and routes from UTA’s website. Participants with questions or problems with cards can call 801-743-3882.

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