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Social Equity Tops Sustainability In Park City Dial-a-ride Van Purchase

A blue and white van with a picture of a moose on the side; the van services people with disabilities and seniors
Park City Municipal Corporation

The Park City Council recently approved the purchase of three replacement vehicles for disability and senior transportation services. Although the vans support Park City’s social equity and transportation goals, city officials viewed the purchase in conflict with a different community critical priority: energy.

The Park City Transportation Department requested the city council approve nearly $77,000 for three dial-a-ride vehicles for ADA or senior services. Transportation Director Alfred Knotts says the lifespan of these particular vans is about five years or 150,000 miles—and three that are currently in use are at 250,000 miles. Knotts says the fleet mechanics have put a lot of time and effort into keeping them running—and to keep them running fills a community need.

“Honestly, there’s a social equity component to this, too, when we're dealing with our transit-dependent folks," Knotts said. "They really rely on these vehicles, and we want to give them the same level of service and the same reliability as the rest of the system that we provide.”

The catch is the dial-a-ride vehicles don’t yet have an electric alternative, which conflicts with the city’s net-zero carbon emissions goals.  Additionally, Park City Sustainability Manager Luke Cartin says the operating costs for diesel over electric don’t pencil out.

“If we just look at to run a vehicle a mile, for diesel to be competitive with the battery electric buses it would have to be less than $1.50," Cartin said. "So when you start looking at these things, the electrification isn't only just a sustainability thing, it's actually a smart financial move as well, and the other thing is our electricity doesn't fluctuate as much as a gallon of gas.”

Councilmember Nann Worel mentioned she was having lunch at the Park City Senior Center recently, and a couple of members were late to lunch, due to issues with the dial-a-ride vans. Knotts says there’s a service shortage for the program.

“This is one of those times I think we kind of have competing interests, but I think it would be irresponsible of myself not to be able to replace these and give the reliability to the system to all the constituents we serve,” Knotts said.

The council voted to approve the purchase of the vehicles. Although Park City Mayor Andy Beerman had some heartburn regarding the city’s energy goals, he says because the life cycle of the vehicles is only five years, the city will likely be able to replace the vans with electric vehicles reasonably soon.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.
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