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Lean times for Davis, Weber UTA riders?

Crystal Collins squeezes onto the 472 Express Bus from Ogden to Salt Lake for a lot of reasons.
/ Source: Ogden Standard-Examiner

Crystal Collins squeezes onto the 472 Express Bus from Ogden to Salt Lake for a lot of reasons. Crystal Collins squeezes onto the 472 Express Bus from Ogden to Salt Lake for a lot of reasons.

Saving money, consuming less gas, helping the environment and easing traffic congestion are among the rationale keeping Collins, a Harrisville resident, on the 6:53 a.m. bus five days a week as she commutes to her job in Salt Lake City.

But Collins is also prompted to take the bus by less noble motives -- namely, sleep.

"If you live out here and you work in Salt Lake, this is absolutely the best way to go," Collins said. "First of all you feel like you are doing your small part and helping society, because it's one more car off the road. Plus, you can always sleep. It's just much less stressful than driving."

Collins' path of least resistance, however, may not be an option much longer.

Utah Transit Authority officials recently announced Weber and Davis counties may face major mass transit service cutbacks because they have yet to adopt a requested 0.05 percent sales tax increase.

UTA is predicting a significant revenue decrease as a result of the Legislature's removal of sales tax on nonprepared food items. That tax cut goes into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

UTA officials requested Wasatch Front counties implement the sales tax increase to make up for the loss.

Officials say the transit services budget impact in 2008 could exceed $3.8 million in the two counties -- $2 million in Davis County and $1.85 million in Weber -- because of the tax cut.

That shortfall, UTA officials say, leaves them with no choice but to cut services in those two counties. Cutbacks mentioned include FrontRunner, express bus routes and paratransit services.

The FrontRunner commuter rail system could experience $2 million in reductions.

Those reductions would come from eliminating Saturday service and ending weekday service at 7 p.m.

Another $1.5 million would be saved by cutting most express bus services and reducing overall bus service by 5 percent to 10 percent.

UTA said it could also save $300,000 by eliminating routes in the paratransit system.

If they cut these services, a lot of people would be affected," Collins said. "I would just have to take my car, and obviously I would hate to do that, but a lot people don't have that option."

Cory Davis drives the bus Collins takes to work, and said it's jampacked every day with people commuting to Salt Lake City.

"We completely fill the seats every day," he said.

Plain City resident Catherine Hunter, who takes the same bus to work every day, said it's even harder to find a seat on her way home.

"It's full in the morning, but there are even more people on at night when I'm coming home," she said.

"Sometimes, I have to wait for a second bus to come by because the first one is too full."

Hunter said she hadn't heard about the possibility of service cuts, which would likely include her bus. If her route does get cut, she said, it will be a major inconvenience.

"I save so much money this way," said Hunter, who works as a paralegal in Salt Lake. "My work pays for my bus pass, so I spend almost nothing in transportation costs."

Weber and Davis county officials will meet with UTA representatives Tuesday to confront the impending service cuts and discuss possibilities for a resolution.

For the meeting, Weber and Davis officials have asked UTA for more detailed information regarding how much each county in its service area pays.

"We have requested some additional tax information regarding Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties," said Davis County Commissioner Bret Millburn. "The issue of equity has come up."

According to the Utah State Tax commission, Weber and Davis counties were among the first to adopt a quarter-cent mass transit tax in 2000, while Utah County, for example, only adopted the tax last year.

"That comparison is apples to oranges," said UTA spokeswoman Carrie Bohnsack-Ware.

"Each county gets the service it's been paying for. We have conducted an independent, comprehensive equity analysis and services and investments are proportional to each county."

Weber and Davis officials still aren't convinced the tax is necessary, especially with rising property taxes that have been plaguing the two counties.

Weber County Commissioner Jan M. Zogmaister said it's up to UTA to show proof that the tax increase is really needed.

"We are obviously very supportive of mass public transit, but right now it's up to UTA to prove to us that the increase is needed," she said. "And if there truly is a need, we will do what we have to do."

Both sides agreed the issue needs to be resolved.

"We want to make it clear, we aren't fighting," said Bohnsack-Ware. "We just want to get together and come up with the best resolution possible."