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Wasatch County considers future of public transit in the valley

Kimball Junction Transit Center
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A bus departs the Kimball Junction Transit Center in Park City. High Valley Transit expanded its services to Wasatch County in November 2022.

High Valley Transit started running buses in the Heber Valley more than a year ago. Public transit has been popular, but not universally welcomed.

The Wasatch County Council will discuss the future of the county’s partnership with High Valley Transit during its work session Wednesday, May 8.

Bus routes and micro-transit trips – which are similar to using a ride-share app and don’t operate on a fixed route – debuted in the Heber Valley in November 2022. The transit organization has provided more than 175,000 fare-free rides to county residents since.

High Valley Transit Executive Director Caroline Rodriguez presented data to county leaders back in February about how residents are using its services. She told the council drivers are at capacity and it’s time to expand.

Wasatch County Manager Dustin Grabau said on KPCW’s Local News Hour the county council will now decide on possible changes to the transit agreement, including whether any additional tax is needed to fund expanded service.

“The challenge that we’re dealing with is that the current transit tax we’ve collected is only just enough to do what we’re doing now,” he said. “If we were to do more, we need to identify additional funding, so that’s [a] major discussion point for our meeting tomorrow [Wednesday].”

Referencing Park City’s recent decision to discontinue micro-transit within city limits, Grabau said it’s important to keep in mind Wasatch County has different demographics and geography.

“Park City has an existing, robust transit system, and that has not been the case for Wasatch County until we launched our partnership with High Valley Transit,” he said. “I think overall, Wasatch County is very happy with our service. We have a very efficient system.”

But not all residents have embraced the presence of transit vehicles in the valley. As Councilmember Luke Searle commented during this winter’s discussion, some parents are concerned about their children using High Valley Transit.

“Parents are seeing this used as well, and not necessarily with their permission,” he said. “Apparently there are some Ubers and Lyfts where they get a parent’s permission, like they have to ping the parent to be able to approve the ride.”

HVT policy states riders 10 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. Other than that, the transit organization places few restrictions on riders.

Rachel, a county resident who asked not to share her last name, said her son who is in high school sometimes uses High Valley Transit to get to work or come home from school. But she said she disagrees with tax dollars being used to pay for free public transit.

“My main concern lies in the fact that they have chosen to offer this service for free,” she said. “Other cities everywhere across the world implemented a paid service. There doesn’t seem to be a valid reason to provide a service for free to everyone.”

The council does not plan to make any final decisions on High Valley Transit Wednesday, only to discuss the service’s future. The meeting begins at 4 p.m.

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