Monday, December 10, 2012

FrontRunner South's opening day headaches

I was willing to forgive when it came to mix-ups and a littlechaos on the day Utah Transit Authority began FrontRunner service south toProvo. The opening of the new North Temple station and others south of SaltLake Central necessitated all manner of bus-route and even TRAX-train reroutingand schedule changes. I get that.

Still, I’ve been riding FrontRunner to downtown Salt LakeCity for more than four years, and despite questions and complaints fromsqueaky wheels like me, there are some things the UTA simply refuses to getright.

From what I read in the paper, the people who manage UTA arehighly paid for their expertise. Indeed, their competence is offered as thechief defense of what some observers view as outsized pay and benefits andretirement packages. Good for them; I wouldn’t turn down a raise, either.

Given all that superiority in the transit-agency-managing profession:

  • Why is there no mid-platform crosswalk at Salt Lake Central Station? It would allow customers departing incoming buses to cross the east set of FrontRunner tracks to board a train awaiting them on the west FrontRunner tracks. There’s a crosswalk at the Farmington station. At Salt Lake Central, those trying to connect between buses and FrontRunner at or near departure times must sprint half the length of the platform, or wait 15, 30 or 60 minutes for the next connection, depending on the desired bus or train route. I’ve asked UTA’s “station hosts” at Salt Lake Central about the lack of a crosswalk. They’ve all said it was supposed to be done long ago. With all due respect to UTAmanagement, why has the agency been able to construct hundreds of millions ofdollars’ worth of rail lines to Utah County but neglected to install a simplecrosswalk?
  • And why do buses – empty ones, at that -- at various FrontRunner stations pull away just as the commuter train is pulling into the station, forcing passengers to miss connections and wait? Instead, the buses should be queued up in a line waiting for FrontRunner passengers to disembark.
  • I have more complaints, but I’ll conclude with this one, which is specific to my weekday experience on FrontRunner between the Clearfield and Salt Lake Central stations: Why do full southbound trains sometimes have to pull over on a Centerville siding and stop to wait for nearly empty northbound trains in the morning? It creates a five-minute delay that causes us to miss bus and TRAX connections at the North Temple and Salt Lake Central stations, further lengthening our commute. Just as puzzling and frustrating is the habit of northbound afternoon-drive-time trains, full of passengers, parking at the same Centerville siding while nearly empty southbound trains fly by.
If UTA’s goal is to move as many people as quickly andefficiently as possible, that goal is too frequently not being achieved. On“change day,” Dec. 10, I asked a good-humored UTA employee assigned to work theNorth Temple station’s bus stop why my 516 bus pulled away before FrontRunnerarrived. “I don’t know,” he answered, “because they’re not supposed to.” Thenwe chatted for a few moments in the pre-dawn cold as I pelted him with more ofmy complaints, none of which he could speak to with authority. He was polite; Ihope I was, too.

“If I try this stop again tomorrow, will that 516 bus waitfor the train?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I hope so.”

I hope so, too.

UPDATE, 6:20 p.m.:
The 516 bus arrived on time, but the 6 p.m. FrontRunner was 20 minutes late. Had a very pleasant chat with a UTA employee on the North Temple platform, though, who said he'd seen several trains with Comet cars in the four-passenger-car setup. I hope they begin including them as a matter of course. He said the learning curve for Utah County riders has not been steep and it's been difficult to get them on and off the trains in a hurry.

Now we're parked at Woods Cross awaiting a southbound train.

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