One thing that has inarguably changed for the better in Salt Lake Valley is public transportation. Compared to ten years ago, it is now much easier to get around the city without a car. With the upswing in traffic headed downtown, not having to worry about parking your vehicle is a very, very good thing. To that end, there are now three light rail lines crisscrossing the valley that form the backbone of public transportation in the greater Salt Lake area.
The number of bus routes has also significantly increased. Most bus routes now start and/or end at a Trax (light rail) station and are designed to carry passengers from the Trax backbone out to less centralized destinations. If you need to go anywhere in the valley, chances are very good that there’s at least one bus that can get you there. Bus routes are generally fairly well-laid out, and as long as you know which bus you need to ride, it’s seldom difficult to get somewhere within a horseshoe’s toss of where you want to be. Why a horseshoe's toss? Because, as the adage says, "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades", and it's most likely that you will need to walk a little bit to get to your destination.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t still significant challenges facing UTA. From the commuter’s point of a view, a few places that some further development would be welcome include:
- Most of the Trax stops are adjacent to large public parking lots, which seems like a tacit admission on the part of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA, the organization in charge of the entire system) that they will not be able to solve the “last mile” problem of public transportation anytime soon.
- More coverage for early morning and late night commuters. It can be difficult to use public transportation if your commute schedule varies much from the traditional commuter norm.
- Better informative displays at bus stops. Many bus stops only list which buses stop there, with no indication of those routes’ schedules or paths.
- Better support for mobile devices. A mobile site exists (uta2go.com), but it seems to ignore smartphones entirely. Adding support for some common smartphone features like high-resolution displays and location services would make a tremendous difference in ease of use for tech-savvy customers.
I’ve been testing it out personally, and I’ve come to the conclusion that with a little extra effort and patience, owning a car is no longer required to get anywhere in Salt Lake City.