Pictured: UTA Operations Supervisor Jonathan Galarza shows board member Charles Henderson a smaller paratransit vehicle being tested on the UTA system.  

Members of UTA’s Board of Trustees are touring UTA facilities this month in an effort to observe operations and identify ways that the organization can better serve the public. This week, board member Charles Henderson met with employees to see how they plan efficient bus trips, schedule operators for every route and serve the unique needs of UTA’s paratransit customers.

Henderson said the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes look at UTA operations is invaluable as the board prepares for its annual retreat.

“We’ll be talking about what the next 20 years looks like,” he said. “We’re trying to improve the overall experience, and we’re trying to find ways that we can drive more riders.”

UTA’s Salt Lake Business Unit operations planners are responsible for creating schedules for 60 bus routes – while considering factors like connections to FrontRunner, TRAX and other bus routes, speed limits, construction projects and traffic. The planners work closely with bus operators to fine-tune schedules and make sure that buses are on running on time and serving riders efficiently.

“We’re continually taking input from operators and customers,” UTA Operations Planner Bob Baty said.

Scheduling bus operators is just as complex. In December, Salt Lake bus operators drove a combined average of 39,992 miles each day, said UTA Manager of Service Delivery Sheryl Posey. A team of operations supervisors must ensure that every bus has a qualified driver behind the wheel, without overstaffing the routes and creating an unnecessary expense – or worse, having too few operators scheduled to drive the buses.

“We never miss a trip,” Posey said.

UTA’s paratransit, flex route and vanpool services provide more than 2 million rides per year. Many riders are unable to use regular bus routes due to physical or cognitive disabilities and depend on these unique services to transport them to work, school, appointments and community events.

UTA’s paratransit employees offer individualized training to help people learn to use the services and work with riders to schedule trips right from their doorstep. Paratransit bus operators are especially dedicated – learning riders’ names and helping them exit the bus – all while maintaining a 98 percent on-time performance rate, UTA Special Services General Manager Cherryl Beveridge said.

“Our drivers are here for a reason,” Beveridge said. “Typically, they have someone in their lives who has a disability.” 

The services struck a chord with Henderson, who said that his mother was faced with mobility limitations when she developed diabetes.

“You’re giving people the option to be a little more free,” he said. “That goes a long, long way. They want to be independent and they want to be on their own. It’s such a benefit from a quality of life aspect.”

Follow us here, on Facebook and Twitter throughout the month as UTA board members continue their behind-the-scenes tours of UTA.