UTA launches affordable, accessible rideshare service
Jan 02, 2020 09:30AM
By Mimi Darley Dutton
Example of a UTA on Demand by Via rideshare van. (Courtesy UTA)
By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]
Residents of Bluffdale, Draper, Herriman, Riverton and South Jordan are invited to try a new microtransit service.
The service is intended to make it easier to get to and from mass transit or work, or to go on errands such as a doctor appointments and grocery store trips. At the same time, it will reduce pollution from cars by combining multiple riders going in a similar direction into one vehicle.
Microtransit is defined by UTA as “an innovative form of on-demand transportation that connects communities with transit options as well as to other local destinations.” The goals of the program include:
- Expand UTA service in southern Salt Lake County
- Improve access for people with disabilities
- Provide first- and last-mile connections to UTA TRAX and FrontRunner stations
- Provide trips to hospitals, grocery stores, jobs, etc.
- Improve transit ridership
For a limited time, the first two rides on the service are free and $1 after that. The pilot project will run through next November. Whether it’s continued will be evaluated based on its usership and success. Fourth quarter Salt Lake County sales tax dollars will fund the project.
UTA partnered with Via for the project. Via is an American company headquartered in New York that specializes in on-demand shared rides designed for quick and efficient trips without lengthy detours. And Via is no stranger to Utah. It employs more than 100 people in its Lehi facility.
“Our entire customer support team for North America is based in Lehi,” said John Sununu, launch manager on the expansion team for Via. “We do a lot of different things out of that center including rider support and driver support. It is truly our customer service nexus.”
UTA on Demand by Via is a fleet of 16 vans servicing a 65-mile radius. Thirteen of the vans hold six passengers in addition to the driver, and three vans in the fleet are ADA compliant. They hold five passengers, including a wheelchair, in addition to the driver.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker noted Swire Coca-Cola that employs about 800 people in Draper, but those people previously had a barrier between mass transit and their worksite. In this case, they could ride microtransit from the FrontRunner location to their workplace for that “last-mile” connection.
“This eliminates that barrier for their employees who would otherwise like to use transit,” Walker said. “There’s only one way to really clean the air here — it’s our vehicles that pollute. It doesn’t matter our party or politics, you want to be able to breathe. Growth is here, and it’s coming. We need to find ways that are efficient, real and effective, and this is one of them.”
South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey also spoke at the program’s launch. “This is going to be a game changer for air quality issues if people will choose to use it,” she said.
University of Utah Health employee Chris Shirley was excited to see the service offered.
“One of our big challenges or concerns are patients who are at risk for missing health appointments because they can’t find adequate transportation,” he said. “UTA does a good job with their paratransit options. A lot of times, that last mile, that door to door, getting people to places like the South Jordan Health Center, that’s interesting to us, and we’d really like to increase access for them. Another reason it’s interesting is the university is trying to do a better job of sustainability. If we can get our own employees out of their cars and on microtransit and mass transit options, that’s better for everybody, and we’ll be a better partner in our community.”
Carl Arky, a spokesperson for UTA, said the service wasn’t intended to be competition for Uber and Lyft, but it could be an alternative, as long as it’s within the 65-mile service radius.
“It’s very user friendly and very affordable,” Arky said. There is no limit to the number of miles traveled in one trip, and while it can’t take you directly to the airport because that’s out of the service radius, you could ride Via to a FrontRunner station to the North Temple FrontRunner to take the green line to the airport.
The program follows UTA hours of Monday–Friday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. To book a trip, download the Via app through Google Play or the Apple App Store or call 385-217-8191. More information can be found at rideuta.com/via.
“Pick-up and drop-off locations are typically within a block of a rider’s exact location. The pilot project will run for one year and is intended to help UTA study how microtransit can expand service in Salt Lake County, improve access for people with disabilities, and provide first and last mile connections to TRAX and FrontRunner,” according to UTA.
“I hope a year from now we are amazed at the success of this program,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.
“We invite the public to ride,” said Carlton Christensen, UTA Board of Trustees chair.