ST. GEORGE – A new study commissioned by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization shows how SunTran could grow to serve up to five times more customers and expand to surrounding cities – based on public support.
SunTran provided 65,935 rides in 2003. That number grew to over 442,000 rides in 2011 – an average annual increase of more than 20 percent. The growth in transit popularity, increasing fuel costs, and public comments at last year’s Dixie Transportation Expo supported the MPO’s interest in commissioning the Regional Transit Study.
The Study indicates that expanding transit services would depend heavily on positive public support and public financing, but short-term, mid-term, and long term growth initiatives are outlined in the Study.
“Initially it is recommended that SunTran retain operation . . . and expand service through inter-local agreements,” the study stated. The study also recommends using more local revenue from cities like Ivins, Santa Clara, Washington, and Hurricane to leverage federal grants currently available to SunTran. That move, coupled with inter-local agreements to expand services into those cities would constitute a good initial step toward a more robust transit service.
In future years, depending on public support, a full service regional transit system could ultimately provide bus service to thousands more riders. By comparison, similarly sized communities examined in the study provide 11 to 24 annual rides per capita compared to SunTran’s 5.46 annual rides per capita. The difference is in the number of buses, routes, frequency of service, and a 0.3 percent sales tax approved by local voters in the other areas.
The study looks at six communities with populations similar to southern Washington County. Each of these communities started out with a transit system much like SunTran, and grew into systems that serve two to five times more riders per capita.
Deep in the details of Chapter 6, the Study gives an example of how a commuter bus route could be established from the SunTran transfer station in St. George to either Ivins or through Washington City to the Purgatory Business Park in Hurricane for $27,000 per year after an initial investment of $122,000. That contribution of local funds could leverage over $600,000 in federal funds to expand local transit services.
The chapter also outlines the cost of a fixed route system, and indicates that establishing fixed and commuter routes though inter-local agreements could lay the foundation for the necessary public education and outreach needed for the eventual creation of a public transit district.
The Study is available on the web at http://dixiempo.wordpress.com/plans-reports-studies/.