A bus or a train is obviously one way to get from point A to point B. At Utah Valley University, those modes of transportation have become much more — a way to get to success.
With the introduction of the UVX (Utah Valley Express) bus in 2018 and an agreement with Utah Transit Authority that gave UVU students free access to bus and rail in the area, there has been an increase in ridership. The impact that has brought has been dramatic.
The monetary savings students enjoy from those benefits can make a huge difference, said Justin Jones, who served as chief of staff for UVU presidents Matthew S. Holland and Astrid S. Tuminez, and saw many of the recent improvements firsthand.
“It helps reduce a barrier to (degree) completion,” Jones said. “The number one barrier to completion is the cost of attending and finishing school. This really is a significant effort helping students meet their completion goals.”
In the last five months of 2018, UVU students, faculty and staff boarded the UVX buses more than 400,00 times. Those buses run from the Orem intermodal station through Orem and Provo. With a slight decrease in student ridership on traditional bus service, a 34% increase in FrontRunner trips and 17% increase in TRAX ridership, UVU’s personnel accounted for more than a 100% increase from the last five months of the previous year. UVU accounts for the highest ridership in the state on the FrontRunner lines, according to Mary De La Mare-Schaefer, UTA regional general manager for the Timpanogos Business Unit.
The trend continues to increase. Through the end of October, UVU personnel accounted for 40% of the total ridership from the previous school year.
The vast majority — 96% — of the UVU riders were students. Part of the popularity of UVX among those students is the frequency with which the buses run.
“The frequency provides options,” Jones said. “The students now can walk out and not have to worry about when the bus will show up. We have seen students ride more and more because of the greater flexibility. They don’t have to have a car or a parking pass.”
Even with UVU’s increasing enrollment, 650 fewer parking passes were sold in 2018 than the previous year; and nearly 700 fewer from 2018 to 2019.
Not only does the university save the cost of developing new parking lots, it has the option of having the space that otherwise would have been used for parking now available to construct new buildings to house classes. Those benefits offset the $1 million per year UVU pays for a 10-year agreement for its personnel to take the free rides.
“Everybody wins in this scenario — the community, the institution, and the students,” said Val Peterson, UVU’s vice president of finance and administration. With fewer vehicles on the roads surrounding UVU, there is decreased congestion and increased safety, he said.
“Fewer college students would be stressed out for their tests,” said Sam Winterton, UVU finance project manager. The students also are not concentrating on finding a parking place instead of watching traffic.
Fewer vehicles on the roadways also means better air quality, Peterson said.
“That helps us clean up our air,” he said. “Most of our emissions are from our tailpipes.”
As UVU officials have evaluated the effects the relationship with UTA has had, they have been pleased.
“All of us have been pleasantly surprised how high our ridership has been,” Peterson said. “It has exceeded our expectations.”
And the trend will probably continue.
“It doesn’t just end with this contract,” Jones said. “It will continue with the construction of the pedestrian overpass over I-15. That will provide another option.” Like the other transit alternatives, it will have added benefits.
“It creates a greater connection with our west campus,” Peterson said. “It becomes an integral part of connectivity.”
The fact that UVU’s several campuses are found near mass transit is not a coincidence.
“UVU is planning for the future, based on the geography of campuses next to transit,” De La Mare-Schaefer said. “I can’t say enough about UVU making this project successful. We have a really exemplary relationship with the university.”
That relationship and the benefits are likely to continue into the future, both locally and wide-spread.
“When student populations ride transit, they continue to use it because they understand it,” she said.