We are frequently asked about late night service, particularly on the weekends. On the surface it seems like a no-brainer, right? The bars and clubs close around 1 a.m., no more designated drivers… Unfortunately despite a six-year pilot program, UTA has never been able to generate ridership in the late night/early morning hours.
Late night service trial
In Nov. 2003, UTA launched what was initially proposed as a one-year trial program to test late service. Service was extended to just after 1 a.m.
After the first year the agency examined the ridership figures to determine cost effectiveness. Though the initial results were grim, UTA opted to continue the service until Jan. 2010, in an effort to help Salt Lake City leadership meet its goals for the downtown area.
“Salt Lake City has been one of our strongest partners for years,” General Manager Mike Allegra said. “UTA is committed to continuing to find ways to work with leadership to help support the growth of downtown, as resources will allow.”
During the six years that UTA provided late night service, the agency ran multiple campaigns in an effort to promote the service.
There was hope that the service might aid in decreasing the number of intoxicated drivers on the road, however bar and club patrons typically still have to make their way from the station to their home.
At its peak in 2009, the agency averaged just about 200 boardings from midnight to 1 a.m. and less than a dozen boardings from 1-2 a.m. on the weekends – a significant drop from the 11 p.m. to midnight hour. This represents approximately less than half of one percent of the total daily boardings.
Changes to late night service
In late 2008, the U.S. economy took a dive and sales tax revenue dropped, accounting for a $38 million dollar difference in projected income. The following year, UTA was forced to make some tough decisions as where to best trim the budget. Cuts were first made to inefficient, poor performing services. This included late night TRAX service, which was cut from the schedule in Jan. 2010.
Similar cuts have been made by other agencies. Other western cities, like Denver, Phoenix and Portland, end service before 1 a.m. as well.
UTA has since opened two new rail lines and the budget remains tight. Today, the last trains depart the downtown area between 11-11:30 p.m.
There are some events, like Jazz games and University of Utah football, that do generate additional TRAX ridership at night. UTA continues to provide special event trains to transport event attendees.
UTA remains committed to downtown Salt Lake City and will continue to review the possibility of implementing late night service again as demand and budgets allow.