13 May 2008

Originally posted at my old blog geekcyclist.blogspot.com

###FrontRunner The Wasatch Front has a new transit option - the FrontRunner high speed commuter rail has been open for about three weeks now. I don’t live in the area served by FrontRunner, but I have heard some good things about it.

The most interesting thing to me was a pair of letters in the Salt Lake Tribune. Cole Carothers who lives near the end point of the train wrote in before it opened:

I just worked the numbers to see if FrontRunner would save me money: I commute 1,080 miles a month. This morning I purchased gas at Costco for $3.07 a gallon. My car averages 20 miles per gallon. That comes to $165.78 a month for gas. A monthly FrontRunner pass is $145. That’s a difference of $20.78. The distance from the Woods Cross stop to my work is 2.1 miles, one way. That’s 84 miles of walking a month (no bus service from the stop)… I figure gas will have to be about $6 a gallon before I start riding the train. (FrontRunner Math, SLTrib, 4/14/08)

There were a number of responses, both as letters to the editor, and as online comments on his letter . Most of them pointed out how Carothers’ math failed to account for either the total consumer cost of driving (oil changes, tires, service, insurance) or the social cost (increased pollution, congestion, lost productivity, and health costs). All points with which I agree.

The first couple of days that FrontRunner was operating it was free, and it appears that Carothers took the opportunity to try it out as shown by his follow-up letter in the paper this week:

The feedback that I received about the letter made me look at the problem with a more open mind. So when the fare was free, I took FrontRunner to work and arranged to be picked up at the Woods Cross station by a fellow employee who lives in the area. I tried it again the next day.

That night I went looking for a monthly pass….

My new commute takes about the same amount of time, but it only has two stop signs and the stress level is absolutely zero. Two fellow employees now join me.

Thanks to all who responded to my letter and helped me keep an open mind about public transportation. I will be riding the train well into the future. (Driving or FrontRunner?, SLTrib, 5/9/08)

###Free Fare Days I can think of no better argument for UTA to run free fare days once a month, or on poor air quality days like some other transit systems do. I don’t have any statistics, but the anecdotal evidence is that all of the riders on the buses I ride when I am not commuting by bicycle are using annual or monthly passes. My guess would be that like mine, most of these passes are subsidised by employers. I figure that the cost in ‘lost fares’ to UTA for a monthly free fare day would be negligible because most riders don’t pay at the fare box.

The benefit would be an opportunity for non-believers to try out alternative transportation. If they did it on Red Air Days it would reduce pollution as well. I think a significant percentage would be like Carothers, and would find that riding the bus is far more convenient and economical than they estimated.

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