Biskupski proposes SLC have its own bus system

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Mayoral candidate Jackie Biskupski is floating the idea of a new bus system to fill in the gaps that aren't covered by UTA.

In an interview with FOX 13 on Monday, Biskupski detailed her proposal that she said would work in tandem with the system already in place by Utah Transit Authority. Biskupski said UTA's system in Salt Lake City is more of a "regional system" that does not provide all that city residents need.

"They're not local," she said. "That's been our biggest problem and I think we have to stop denying that and really take accountability as a city and a community that wants public transportation to be the means of operation here. If we want that and we want to clear the air, we've got to finally jump in."

Biskupski pointed to other communities that have their own city paid-for transit systems, including the Cache Valley Transit District in the Logan area, and Park City's bus system (St. George also operates its own SunTran service). Biskupski said Cache Valley pays about $7 million each year to operate its transit system and estimated Salt Lake City might have to pay double that to run its own.

"You will have to do an upfront heavy investment, potentially through a bond," she said. "I would definitely want to pursue a public-private partnership as well."

Mayor Ralph Becker's re-election campaign said Monday it could cost taxpayers a lot more than the numbers Biskupski was throwing out.

"If you look at what the cost of your transit agency, the overhead costs are enormous," said Matt Lyon, a spokesman for Becker's campaign. "You've got to pay for maintenance. You've got to pay for administrative, you've got to pay for H.R., you've got to pay for physical buses. There's a lot of costs that go into it."

Lyon cited a $60 million annual price tag that UTA pays for overhead costs to run its system. He said Becker would prefer to bolster the existing transit service within the city.

"For Salt Lake City, that's just not a cost we should take in. We should use the resources UTA is providing," Lyon said.

In a statement to FOX 13, UTA interim president and CEO Jerry Benson insisted it provided "a high level of transit service to Salt Lake City travelers."

"UTA operates three light rail lines, a streetcar, commuter rail, dozens of connecting bus routes, paratransit and van pools within Salt Lake City. Transit trips are free within the downtown free fare zone and residents can purchase a discounted Hive Pass through a partnership between the city and UTA," Benson wrote. "UTA has recently improved frequency on key routes and will continue to partner with Salt Lake City to make transit more convenient for travelers in the city."

Biskupski said constituents she's met on the campaign trail want improved bus service (a similar proposal was advanced in the primary by Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott). She also said a city-run system has the potential to cut air pollution. If elected, Biskupski said she would not move forward with it unless it was studied and something taxpayers supported.

"I want to take the plan to the people and say, 'OK, here's what you said. You said you want more bus service, here's what it will cost us. Are you up for that? Here's how we get it off the ground,'" she said.