Just 1 year into service, SunTran Washington City route accounts for nearly 10% of ridership

WSAHINGTON CITY — A year after expanding into Washington City with a new bus route, ridership on SunTran’s Route 7 now counts for an estimated 8% of the public transit service’s overall ridership.

The Deseret Industries SunTran bus stop in St. George where the route into Washington City begins. Since the new route began in June 2020, it has gone on to account for 8% of SunTran’s overall ridership, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“The residents use it quite a bit,” Cameron Cutler, public works director for the city of St. George, said. St. George oversees the SunTran bus service, which covers much of St. George but also runs routes into Ivins and more recently, Washington City.

“We were quite surprised by the increase in ridership despite COVID,” Cutler said.

Despite launching in the middle of the pandemic in June 2020, ridership in Washington City has run up to between 1,800-2,200 riders per month, Washington City Council member Kurt Ivie said Thursday.

“I think it’s taken a year for our residents to get used to the fact there is a bus they can access,” he said. “Our ridership has increased and has gotten better and better. … This past year we’ve had a lot of residents that have utilized the bus to get them to work or to shopping, and its been very important to them. … It’s been very good to us.”

Overall ridership of SunTran tends to hover around 400,000 annually. However, due to the onset of the pandemic last year, Cutler said the ridership fell 20-30%.

Ivie rode the bus with St. George News as it started from a bus stop west of the Deseret Industries in St. George and moved into Washington City, where it stopped at Biolife, Walmart and other points along Telegraph Street.

A map of SunTran’s Route 7 through Washington City | Map courtesy of Washington City, St. George News

The bus then went up 1100 East to King’s Row and Pine Valley Townhomes, over to the Washington City Community Center, then up to Buena Vista Boulevard, up Cactus Lane and down Green Spring Drive and back to the original stop by Deseret Industries.

SunTran bus driver Karlene Cutler said Route 7 is “pretty busy.”

“It’s one of my favorite routes,” she said.

Cutler said no single driver or bus is dedicated to the route, but rather drivers run through different routes on a rotating basis throughout the day.

Due to how busy Route 7 has become, Ivie said St. George and Washington City are discussing the creation of a new route that would serve the Washington Fields area of both cities. Discussions are still in the preliminary stages, he said.

Prior to 2020, expanding SunTran into Washington City had been in the works for several years. City officials had been ready to bring SunTran online as early as 2015; however, funding they believed they had available fell short and caused city officials to shelf the project.

A new source of funding come in the form of the countywide 0.25% sale tax for transportation and transit imposed by the Washington County Commission in June 2019.

One of the SunTran signs along the route in Washington City, Utah, May 20, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

While the majority of the transit portion of the 0.25% sales tax goes toward funding the St. George-to-Springdale transit project, Washington City claimed its portion of the sales tax in order to fund the bus route residents have wanted for many years.

While the St. George-to-Springdale route is primarily seen as an alternative way to get residents and visitors to and from Zion National Park, Ivie said the route is also considered to be the potential backbone of a future countywide transit network that will tie in Washington City.

In the immediate, St. George will be managing the Washington City route; however, Washington City will cover the cost of the bus and its associated maintenance. Washington City is also in charge of installing bus-related infrastructure along the route. Part of this includes two new shade structures to be built by Walmart – the route’s busiest stop – and at another location farther down Telegraph Road, Ivies said.

Washington City Council member Kurt Ivie shares how the SunTran stop at Walmart is the busiest in the city. There are future plans for a potential shade structure to be placed at that location for people waiting on the bus’s arrival, Washington City, Utah, May 20, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The shade structures, which Ivie said he wants to see at every bus stop so people aren’t left out in the sun, run an estimated $12,000 each.

Additional infrastructure the city is planning includes “cut outs” in the side of the roadway along Telegraph Street that will allow the buses to pull out of traffic in order to take on or left off passengers versus stopping in the travel lane.

“We really appreciate our partners in this, being Washington County, St. George city and the other municipalities,” Ivie said. “We really appreciate being a part of this. We just want it to grow so that all of our residents that would like to use it, they can, and they will.”

Rides on SunTran are a $1 each. Single-day and monthly passes are also available. More information can be found on SunTran’s website.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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