Tag Archives: train

UTA to Start Charging for Parking at Draper Station

Parking at a transit station in Provo.

Parking at a transit station in Provo.

A few months ago, I argued that UTA had its parking and riding situation backward; rather than give away parking and charge for transit, they should give away train rides and charge for parking.

And now it looks like at least half of that plan is coming true. A Twitter friend alerted me earlier this week to this story, which reveals that UTA plans to begin charging $1 a day for parking at the Draper station:

“The charges help defray the costs of maintaining the facility,” he said. “We want to keep the service as accessible as possible for people, so we try to keep the price down as much as we can.”

The two-level Draper garage, which opened in December along with the Draper FrontRunner station, currently has capacity for 300 vehicles but will eventually expand to 600, Allnatt said.

UTA is charging far less than needed to cover the costs of the parking. And the cost of rides on transit aren’t going down, so this isn’t really what I had in mind.

But this new policy still demonstrates that “free” parking is not actually free. Right now transit riders and tax payers fund the parking. You and I literally are paying for people to park their cars at transit stations. This new fee, which is comically small, means that the people who actually use the parking will bear a small responsibility for funding it. I just wish the fee was higher and the cost of riding the train was going down.

Prepare to pay for parking at all transit stations, because that's certainly the future.

Prepare to pay for parking at all transit stations, because that’s certainly the future.

But in any case, this is the future: paid parking at transit stations. We should expect this type of policy at all Frontrunner stations, especially in the bigger cities along the Wasatch Front, in the future. And that’s a good thing because subsidizing parking for transit riders is vastly inferior to just subsidizing transit outright.



Filed under commuting

Frontrunner Breakdowns Illustrate Problems With Underdeveloped Transit

Last night a southbound Frontrunner train broke down right in the narrows, stranding travelers in a remote area that couldn’t be reached by bus. To make matters worse, the heater apparently wasn’t working and the temperature dropped into the low single digits.

The Frontrunner train pulls into the Lehi station. A southbound train broke down Thursday night just before reaching this station.

The Frontrunner train pulls into the Lehi station. A southbound train broke down Thursday night just before reaching this station.

All public transit will have some delays — indeed car transit also has many delays — but this incident illustrates some of the problems with a public transit system in a car-centric place. Specifically, it shows what happens when there’s only one (transit-based) way to get around: everything grinds to a halt.

I’ve experienced many transit delays, breakdowns and even strikes in various cities. But in most of my own experiences when something breaks down people choose another route. It may take longer, but it beats sitting in a stopped train in eight degree weather. With Frontrunner however, a breakdown stops everything.

In this particular case a lot of the blame goes to the unusual geography and population distribution — the train really broke down in the worst possible place. Utah is also getting better and better when it comes to public transit. And of course, the bus was still running.

But the best thing to do in this situation would have been to drive a car, which is a shame because in places with more robust public transit periodic hiccups on a single line don’t necessarily render entire systems useless.


Filed under commuting

Why is Parking Free at Frontrunner Stations?

Frontrunner commuter rail began service between Provo and Salt Lake City yesterday, but while it’ll cost just over $5 for the hour long ride it’ll be completely free to leave your car in the Provo parking lot all day long. Why is that?

The parking lot at Provo's commuter rail station.

The parking lot at Provo’s commuter rail station.

With the new train service and accompanying station parking lots, UTA is offering two services: travel and car storage. Both of these services cost UTA money in the form of installation, land, maintenance, security, etc.

There are also plenty of examples of these two services costing users money. Frontrunner itself charges for travel, while parking includes charges where ever there are parking meters or paid lots, or when the cost of a dwelling is higher because it includes parking. “Free” travel — free ride zones, for example —  is also relatively common.

In other words, UTA could have conceivably charged for parking. My guess is that there’s some psychology at play here; UTA officials know that if new public transit riders had to pay for the train and parking, they might reject the service. (I would accordingly be astonished if, 10 or 20 years from now, parking at Provo’s station remains free.) So paying for both services is out because of the resulting sticker shock.

But that doesn’t mean the situation couldn’t be flipped: parking could cost money while travel could be the free or at least more heavily subsidized service. Imagine if it cost each driver $7 a day to park but riding to Salt Lake was completely free. It seems impossible, even nonsensical, to think of offering commuter rail to users for free, but it’s no less logical than offering another costly service like parking at no charge. In the end, there’s no reason parking had to get all the benefits.

There are some practical challenges that would come with switching which service UTA offers for free. And eventually as both the demand and supply for parking dwindled free travel would probably disappear — though at that point UTA would have dramatically reduced its operating costs and increased revenue by eliminating a costly giveaway.

But for now, I want to focus on the general problem here: UTA is giving something away and it may well be the wrong thing. After all, driving — which is incentivized by free parking — is less efficient than train travel, which costs. Cars take up more valuable land, they pollute more, they’re less safe, etc. So though it would be a fairly radical move, it might make sense to charge for parking and give away train rides.


Filed under commuting, parking

Frontrunner Free Ride Day

Saturday was the free ride day on the Frontrunner. There were long lines in Provo, packed trains all day and very cold temperatures.

Below I’ve included pictures from my experience on the train. That experience began in Provo, but when we saw how long the line was we realized we wouldn’t be able to meet up with the rest of our group in Lehi. As a result, we drove up to the Thanksgiving Point station and got on the train there. I know, more driving is bad, but at least we got to see two stations.

A few things worth noting in these images:

•  The parking lot in Provo was very full at certain times but less so at others. I’ll be interested to see how demand for parking compares to supply. My guess is that like almost every parking lot, supply will exceed demand.

• The Thanksgiving Point station is way cooler than the Provo station. I’m not sure that really means anything, but it was fun to see.

• On the ride home, we were in an older car with leather seats and faux wood paneling. It was super classy.

• Laura and I wondered about the psychology of the event; after waiting in bitter cold weather for hours, riding in standing room only cars, and then experiencing delays (we were stuck in Murray for more than 30 minutes on our way back) we wondered if some people would be discouraged by the free ride. However, so far I’ve only heard good things — and I’ve heard UTA even provided busses to keep people warm in some cases — so our fears anecdotally appear to be unfounded.


Filed under commuting

Frontrunner Free Ride Day

The opening of commuter rail is finally upon us, with the free ride day beginning tomorrow at 10 am and regular service starting Monday. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you probably know the details, but just in case UTA created this page with all the relevant information.

The Frontrunner station in Provo.

The Frontrunner station in Provo.

Most importantly, the free rides will go from 10 am to 10 pm (so don’t get stuck in the wrong city) and “cost” a can of food. UTA also has these safety tips on its site, which are pretty self-evidence but still worth remembering:

  • Dwell time at each station is scheduled for 30 seconds and we expect large crowds. Please be prepared to embark/disembark in an efficient manner. The doors will not open once they have been locked down for departure.
  • If riding on an upper level, please make your way downstairs prior to arriving at the station.
  • Before you cross railroad tracks or enter a FrontRunner platform:
    • always watch for trains—look both ways
    • take off your head phones
    • put  your cell phone down—no texting or phone calls
    • hop off your bike or skateboard
    • hold smaller children’s hands
    • never cross between train cars—always walk around to a designated safe crossing
  • Always stand behind the yellow tactile strip when trains approach the platform.
  • Never walk or play on tracks or the rail corridor; even for short cuts.  It could be deadly and is trespassing, punishable by a $100 or greater fine.
  • Never go around a lowered gate or try to outrun a train.  Just wait for the train to pass, the gates to lift and lights to stop before crossing the track.
  • Never throw things at the train or place things on the track; you could get hurt or even derail the train.
Please don't let yourself get run over by the train. It's not hard a hard thing to do.

Please don’t let yourself get run over by the train.

And in case you haven’t seen it, UTA also has a comprehensive Frontrunner FAQ page that includes most additional information.


Filed under commuting, travel

Frontrunner Media Day

The new Frontrunner commuter rail extension to Provo is about a week away from opening and today UTA invited the media to check it out.

My colleague Billy Hesterman wrote this article about the event. Among other things, Billy reports that there are some impressive sites along the route to Salt Lake:

The area around the narrows could trick someone into thinking they’ve left the urban developments of Lehi and Bluffdale as the track rides the valley floor of a small canyon that wraps around Point of the Mountain.

Inside the canyon is a mixture of canals, rivers and great views that show off some of the natural beauty contained in an area that is usually ignored by drivers as they speed around the point to get to their destination.

Among the various other coverage, KSL’s Sam Penrod tweeted a series of cool pictures. Fox 13 also has this video (that for some reason I couldn’t embed).

One thing that struck me while watching that report was how cool Provo’s station seems. I’ve always looked at from the north (looking south). From that angle it just comes across like a miserable parking lot. But looking north the historic buildings in the area are visible. So hopefully, it won’t be too many years before the area immediately south of the station gets filled in as well.

Provo's soon-to-open commuter rail station.

Provo’s soon-to-open commuter rail station.

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Frontrunner Group Passes

Everyone probably knows by now that the Frontrunner south line between Provo and Salt Lake opens Dec. 8 with a free ride day. But when paid service begins two days later there will be a cheap way for multiple people to commute: group passes.

According to UTA’s website, group passes will cost $14 and are good on the bus, TRAX and Frontrunner:

A group pass is available for FrontRunner, TRAX and local bus for groups of up to four people of all ages. […] For trips beginning on FrontRunner or TRAX, group passes should be purchased at a ticket vending machine. These machines are located at all FrontRunner and TRAX stations. At the time of purchase, each ticket will be validated by the ticket vending machine and can be used for one round-trip ride on FrontRunner, TRAX and/or bus as noted above.

A one-way Provo-to-Salt Lake fare on Frontrunner without any sort of pass will cost $5.68. That means four round trip fares will cost $45.44, so the $14 group pass is quite a bargain. Unfortunately, the website states that it’s a promotional pass and is subject to cancelation in the future.

In other train news, this KSL article mentions that the free ride day on Dec. 8 will actually cost a donated can of food. So don’t forget your can.

And finally, here’s a charming commercial for Frontrunner’s upcoming service to Provo:

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