Thousands of riders boarded UTA trains and buses on Free Fare Friday, Dec. 22, and the result was a significant reduction in air pollution. An extra 17,560 cars were removed from the roads that day, and an additional 3 tons of pollutants and 200 tons of greenhouse gases were prevented from entering the atmosphere.

“Free Fare Friday was designed to encourage people to try public transit – and it worked,” said UTA President/CEO Jerry Benson. “Thousands of riders boarded our buses and trains, and we were able to save several tons of pollution from entering our atmosphere during a critical time of year for air quality. We hope this translates to more Wasatch Front residents who are willing to leave their cars at home and ride UTA again, especially during inversion season.”

Ridership for the entire UTA system increased by 23 percent on Free Fare Friday, compared to the average of five previous weekdays. Approximately 22,800 more people than usual rode public transit on Dec. 22 using the same measurement.

FrontRunner ridership increased by more than 66 percent, for a total of 30,016 boardings. TRAX ridership was up 32 percent on Free Fare Friday, for a total of 79,825 boardings. Impacts to bus ridership were smaller. Several hundred more bus riders used the system on Dec. 22 compared to the average of five previous weekdays, with 61,735 boardings reported on fixed route buses.

“It's encouraging to see that so many people embraced Free Fare Friday," said former City Council Chair Stan Penfold, who led efforts to sponsor the event. "This shows that residents of our great community will respond positively to common sense ideas that make a difference on the big issues we all care deeply about, like improving our poor air quality. I hope the success of efforts like this will motivate our local and state officials to continue exploring innovative approaches that can clear our air and increase transit ridership."

About the Event

The Salt Lake City Council and Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office sponsored Free Fare Friday in partnership with UTA, with a goal of introducing more people to public transit and encouraging them to leave their cars at home. This effort is especially critical during inversion season, as a commuter driving just seven miles in a car by themselves produces an average 53 times more emissions than a commuter who bikes to a TRAX station and rides UTA. (Source: 2016 UTA Transit and Air Quality Brochure)

“Free Fare Friday was a fun and easy way for me and my family to get better acquainted with public transportation options and it seems a lot of others had the same experience,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. “We can all do our part to help clean the air and when we do—based on this promotion-- the improvement is significant.”

All UTA services were included on Free Fare Friday. Riders could use regular and express buses, TRAX, FrontRunner, the S-Line, ski bus service, Park City-SLC Connect and paratransit service (for eligible riders) at no charge. The promotion included routes and rail lines throughout all six counties in UTA’s service area. UTA also added extra TRAX cars to the system and increased evening FrontRunner service to accommodate crowds. Hundreds of UTA employees worked to post signs on platforms, cover bus fare boxes, direct riders on and off trains and answer questions.

City Creek Center shops and eateries noticed a boost in business during the event, General Manager Linda Wardell said.

“Free Fare Friday was a tremendous success and very impactful for our retailers and eateries,” she said. “The size of the crowds streaming off TRAX trains and into the center throughout the day and evening was amazing; shops were packed and some of our restaurants stayed open late to serve hungry shoppers and visitors.”

Rider Response

A UTA poll of rail riders showed that most riders knew about Free Fare Friday, and many rode specifically for the event. Approximately 90 percent of riders who knew it was Free Fare Friday stated that they would ride UTA on another free fare day.

"The success of Free Fare Friday shows that all of us care about clean air and want to do something about it," said Salt Lake City Council Chair Erin Mendenhall. "Making it as easy as possible for people to ride transit not only improves our air quality, it expands economic opportunity and makes our community more vibrant. Council members recently adopted a new Transit Master Plan and we'll be working hard this year to find ways to make transit service more frequent and convenient for city residents," Mendenhall said.

 See photos and comments from riders who enjoyed Free Fare Friday using the #freefarefriday hashtag or by following UTA on Twitter Facebook and Instagram.

On Free Fare Friday, rider Kordel Braley, his wife and their four children rode UTA from Lehi to downtown Salt Lake City to shop and see the lights. Braley rides UTA regularly as he commutes to work, but said the experience was a first for his kids. FrontRunner was crowded during the family’s midafternoon northbound trip, he said, but the crowds eased once they transferred to TRAX and the rest of the experience was simple and enjoyable.

“It was definitely fun for the kids and pretty smooth,” he said. “It’s something that we’d like to do again.”

Free Fare Friday by the Numbers

 

Total 12/22/17 TRAX Ridership

79,825 boardings

TRAX Ridership Increase1

32.2%

Total 12/22/17 FrontRunner Ridership

30,016 boardings

FrontRunner Ridership Increase1

66.4%

Total boardings (includes rail and fixed route, flex and paratransit buses).

174,094

Total boarding increase1

31,732

Estimated individual rider increase2

22,829

Riders who knew it was Free Fare Friday3

FrontRunner – 89%

TRAX – 78%

Riders who rode because it was Free Fare Friday3

FrontRunner – 69%

TRAX – 49%

Customers who would ride on Free Fare Friday again3

FrontRunner – 92%

TRAX – 89%

 

Cars removed from the road2

Approximately 17,560

Environmental impact4

Three tons of vehicle air pollutants and more than 200 tons of Greenhouse gas prevented from entering atmosphere

1 Calculated by comparing ridership on Dec. 22, 2017 to ridership on five previous weekdays

2 There were a total 31,732 additional boardings recorded on Free Fare Friday. To calculate individual riders, UTA used the total number of boardings and assumed that each rider transferred 1.39 times, a figure calculated using findings from our 2015 UTA rider survey. Assuming an average automobile occupancy of 1.3, based on the National Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Free Fare Friday removed approximately 17,560 vehicles from the road.

3 Based on customers who were aware of Free Fare Friday, according to surveys conducted on FrontRunner and TRAX platforms throughout the day on Dec. 22.

4 Environmental impacts estimated using emission factors provided by the Utah Division of Air Quality, using the EPA Moves model.