Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced last week the Department of Environmental Quality is partnering with the Utah Transit Authority to offer free rides to all Utah residents during the month of February.
Mendenhall was a driving force in this initiative. February is historically a tough month for air pollution in Utah along the Wasatch Front as cold air traps air pollution in the valley, typically after a snowstorm.
According to Bo Call, Utah Division of Air Quality Monitoring manager, the free fare will incentivize riders to use the UTA’s TRAX, bus and train systems without having to pay.
“I would just hop on the train to go home because it’s super close. UTA has awesome transportation around here,” said Rachel Edmunds, a BYU student and Utah native. “The buses and trains that they provide all throughout the valley saved me and it also saved a lot of money.”
Public transportation provides even more benefits in addition to reducing emissions. It can be convenient, inexpensive and accessible to people who do not own cars but still need to get around, Edmunds said.
“Because it’s free this February, this will be a huge blessing and probably an answer to a prayer for lots of people,” she said.
According to the UTA’s website, Salt Lake City’s city council pledged up to $50,000 to the initiative. Other companies including Chevron, Dominion Energy, the Utah Clean Air Partnership, Provo’s mayor Michelle Kaufusi, Ogden’s mayor Mike Caldwell and more donated to cover the cost.
“If you’re looking at the best solutions, you have to look at where the pollution is coming from, and that’s from vehicles,” Call said.
Many of the buses are electric hybrids or use efficient diesel and compressed natural gas, helping reduce emissions and inversions in Utah, according to UTA’s website.
“No one little thing is going to make a difference, so it’s a bunch of little things that have to happen,” Call said. He suggested residents drive newer vehicles that produce less emissions and purchase tier 3 gas, as well as take advantage of Free Fare February to help reduce air pollution in Utah.
Air pollution from vehicles affects everyone, but especially young children and older adults with asthma.
“When you have asthma, you have a compromised respiratory system,” said Savannah Smith, program coordinator of Utah’s Asthma Program within the Utah Department of Health. “When the lungs are exposed to those foreign particles on high pollution days, the lungs are overworked and overwhelmed. It can impact the amount of air that they’re able to breathe.”
In addition to taking public transport this month, Smith said residents can work from home, go idle-free and drive less to help reduce emissions.
“Anything we can do to prevent air pollution is going to really impact not only children with asthma, but every Utahn,” Smith said. “It’s on everyone to work on it together.”
Residents can take advantage of the program until Feb. 28 to save money, utilize public transportation, and help reduce emissions. More information on Free Fare February is available online, and additional resources about Utah’s Asthma Program are available to parents, schools, and residents.