Cox says ‘free forever’ fare on public transit ‘worth exploring’

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox has signaled he’s open to making all public transit free in Utah.

Speaking to reporters at his monthly press conference on PBS Utah, the governor floated the idea of ​​eliminating transit fares statewide to combat high gas prices. Governor Cox said he was in discussions with Republican legislative leaders about how best to help Utahns.

The state is unable to eliminate the gas tax like other places have because of the constitutional mechanisms that dictate the budget. However, the governor said he is open to funding free public transit across the state for three to six months. It would cost about $3 million a month, he said.

The Utah Transit Authority saw a surge in ridership for “Free Fare February”, an idea orchestrated by legislative leaders and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. He made all transit along the UTA system free. What the agency has seen is a sharp increase in ridership.

The success of this experiment prompted the mayor and others to question whether it should be a “free forever fare”. The problem is the cost – the legislative analysis put it at between $40 million and $50 million.

When asked about the “free forever fare” by FOX 13 News, the governor signaled his willingness to consider it.

“It’s an idea worth exploring,” he said. “Admittedly, I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the numbers that came out. I should look long term at what it looks like, but do something like this (free fare to fight high petrol prices) would give us even more data to study.”

Christy J. Olson