A funding request at the legislature would make UTA busses and trains free in January and July. The measure is meant to address northern Utah’s air pollution problems.
Democratic Representative, Joel Briscoe of Salt Lake, asked the Infrastructure and General Appropriations Committee for $9 million on Friday to fund what he called an experiment. Briscoe is drafting legislation aimed at trying to cut the number of drivers on northern Utah’s roads during the worst inversion months, and cut back on emissions as a result.
“For every 1% increase of transit ridership 16,000 new transit trips would be added, 14,000 vehicles removed from the road every day; which would be 88 tons of emissions annually.”
Briscoe’s initiative is part of a package of clean air bills released by Utah Democrats in early January, which included bids for greater regulation of polluting industries and a push to cut emissions by state government. The legislation was unveiled on the heels of demands for action by the groups Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Moms for Clean Air.
Representative Briscoe says that suggestions by some that free rides be parceled out individually on days when air quality is poor, is logistically unsound, and that more needs to be done to encourage the use of public transit.
“If you have a red burn day on two days in one week, and then one day the next week and three days the next week then you have to every week shift back and forth between today I’m riding in my car tomorrow and tomorrow I’m riding the bus and our thinking is that if we said look, everyone understands how bad it is in January. Plan ahead of time. We’re going to help you out and we’re going to give you an incentive.”
The only opposition voiced at Friday’s committee meeting came from Republican Senator David Hinkins of Orangeville, who said that rural taxpayers, his constituents, shouldn’t have to pay for the measure.
“I would like to know why the taxpayers of Southeastern Utah would have to subsidize a Salt Lake or Utah County issue.”
The Free-UTA-Passes bill has not yet been introduced. However, Representative Briscoe says he made the funding request on Friday to give the committee time to consider it before the state budget forecast was unveiled on this morning.