Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) spokesman Kevin Kitchen said his agency is in the early stages of a long process to establish the new route some time next year.
“We’re anticipating service in the spring, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said Nov. 12.
UDOT officials were scheduled to hold negotiations with another firm last week, but Kitchen said he could not discuss any details about that company.
Last year, UDOT awarded a contract for twice-daily runs between Salt Lake City, Moab and other communities to Salt Lake Express, which is based in Pocatello, Idaho.
But that proposal fell through shortly after company representatives learned that they could not access a federal grant for $1.5 million until they brought all their buses into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Kathy Pope, the company’s sales and grant manager, said at the time that Salt Lake Express planned to make the required upgrades and then submit a new proposal. But company officials ultimately rejected that idea, based on the additional costs they would have incurred in order to comply with the 1990 federal law.
“It was a burden on us,” Pope said Nov. 11. “It would have been hard for us to make any profit.”
The company, which served about 165,000 passengers last year, already accommodates disabled customers along its existing bus routes – provided that they make arrangements at least 48 hours in advance. According to Pope, Salt Lake Express averages about two wheelchair requests each month throughout its entire service area, which runs from Provo in the south to Boise in the northwest and Butte, Mont., to the north.
Six of the company’s 65 vehicles are designed to meet the ADA requirements. But those requirements cut down on the number of spaces that are available to other passengers, Pope said.
In the case of its proposed Salt Lake City to southeastern Utah route, lower ridership projections translated to less potential revenue for the company; all of its expenses would have gone up, as well, she said.
Pope estimated that she spent about six months working on a plan to develop a successful passenger bus route from the Wasatch Front through Moab, Monticello and Blanding.
As she envisioned it, twice-daily service would have brought tourists to the area, and local residents could have boarded Salt Lake City-bound buses if they needed medical care that is unavailable locally. Residents in southern San Juan County would have also benefited from daily commuter service to and from Moab, and other passengers could have made connections to places in Idaho, Montana and beyond, she said.
“It was a great plan at a very reduced cost to those people,” Pope said.
Despite the outcome, Pope still sees a need for the service, and she believes there’s a good chance that it will succeed – eventually.
“It’s a few years away,” she said.
Kitchen, however, said that date might be sooner rather than later.
“We’re still anticipating some type of service next spring,” he said.