SALT LAKE CITY — A clean air initiative touted as the first of its kind in the country would allow Salt Lake City residents to ride UTA's mass transit system for $360 a year, a fee collected through the monthly utility bill.
The joint pilot project was announced Friday by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker at a press conference held adjacent to a TRAX stop on 400 South and 900 East, where Becker was joined by UTA General Manager Mike Allegra to release details of the proposal.
Becker said the Salt Lake City Council will still have to sign off on the initiative and agree to $150,000 in funding to administer the program, which would launch in 2014.
With winter on Utah's doorstep, Becker stressed that the project will help reduce Salt Lake City's part in the air pollution problem that strangles the valley with inversions.
"We all know this is the toughest time of the year for air quality," he said.
Allegra said the reduced price puts the program on par with its Eco Pass offered to area employers, with bulk purchases that allow the transit agency to shave the price to $30 from what would normally be $90 a month. Residents could purchase a photo-identification pass for $360, or have the payments spread out over 12 months.
The non-transferable pass would be good on the local and express bus, TRAX and FrontRunner, but the Ski bus, Park City Connect and paratransit services would be excluded.
UTA and Salt Lake City officials have been crafting the plan for two years, Becker said, after the idea was floated by a Salt Lake City employee. After crunching the numbers, Allegra said it was determined that with a minimum of 6,000 Salt Lake City residents signing on, the pilot program would be a success.
Of course, he added, the goal is to get more riders than that.
"Our goal is a pass in every pocket."
The initiative is being sponsored by Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold, who will broach the proposal with his colleagues in the coming months.
"This is a huge step for providing options for anyone who lives in Salt Lake City to take transit instead of taking a car," he said.
Erin Mendenhall, executive director of Breathe Utah, said the program is one that clean advocates have been hoping for.
"Millions of individual driving decisions are being made each day," she said, contributing to the quality of air residents must breathe along the Wasatch Front. "Our health and local economy are damaged by our air pollution."
Mendenhall said the discounted transit pass will accomplish much more than waiving UTA fares during inversions or for the months of January and July, which have been proposed as other possible ways to clean up the air.
"This is a better cultural change," she said. "An unlimited lasting commitment."
Too often, people want to take transit but have to overcome the economics of their own personal situation, Mendenhall said.
"The financial barrier is too great," she said. "They've found that getting in their car is cheaper than getting on the bus."
Allegra said the program will launch first in Salt Lake City and spread from there.
"Our intent is to make it applicable to every community along the Wasatch Front."