Their plan was to create a regional transit authority (RTA), which would oversee transit for the three counties covered by their MPO. As they spent the time figuring all of this out, the state legislature was busy passing the sales tax and putting it up for referendum. Now Inglish and the others at the MPO had another problem, they had to go out and show people what could be done with the sales tax if it passed. And pass it did. Within six years Inglish had seen transit go from an afterthought to a full-blown resurrection.
Leaving the MPO, he went to work as the director of transit development for the UTA, a move that at the time he may have regretted.
“We went through horrendous growing pains. Broken down buses. We did everything wrong,” Inglish laughs.
“But by 1979 or so we had figured it out, learned the hard way. And we built this facility. We built others. We understood preventive maintenance and things like that.
“And we got it together and by the mid-‘80s we won the APTA system of the year award. Ridership was growing dramatically. And in the mid-‘80s we said OK now we’ve got time to think about something else, let’s start thinking about commuter rail. We did the first joint highway/transit environmental statement of a major transportation corridor in the nation and it became the model for ICE-TEA and later federal legislation.”
Inglish stayed on with UTA through the whole process, eventually becoming director of both bus operations and later light rail operations as the light rail system emerged in Salt Lake City, before becoming assistant general manager and general manager 10 years ago when the previous general manager stepped down.
“And I’ve been here from the beginning, I haven’t left. They can’t get rid of me. They’ve called me a lot of names, but they haven’t gotten rid of me,” Inglish says with a smile.
From Bus to Rail
UTA will open the first of its planned bus rapid transit (BRT) routes in April, featuring longer buses with three doors and placing them where they will get the most use.
“This is basically taking an existing curb lane of a massive arterial almost and putting … it’s a very heavily used bus corridor where we’ve had buses for years and years and years carrying a lot of people stop by stop by stop.
“[Now] it’s expressing from stop to stop to stop. We’ve speeded up the boarding with the triple doors. Just some of those basic BRT principles.”
Inglish notes that this BRT line is part of an agreement with the Department of Transportation (DOT) that should the line be successful and volumes increase sufficiently, UTA could switch it to street-running rail down the road. In fact, any future work done on the corridor would take into account that it could eventually be converted to rail.
Inglish believes that street-running rail is the next step of transit development in the United States. Why? He feels it’s because we’re missing the link between local and regional rail systems.
“Really, light rail in the United States tends to work more like a regional rail system would work in Europe. The next level if you go into any of the major European cities, the Munichs, the Helsinkis and anywhere you want to go, the next set of linkages are streetcars,” Inglish says.
“[They would be] street running, but longer spacing on the stops [with] smart shelters telling you when the next [vehicle] is going to come, electronic information signs and all of that. Much greater capacity on the vehicles for rush hour, sometimes even in trained cars.”
Streetcars in this format is something we have little of in the United States currently Inglish feels, but also says we used to have a lot of it and, in fact, wonders if some of the light rail lines in use today wouldn’t be better suited as streetcars due to being too heavy for the corridor they are in. As with all things, the idea of streetcars versus light rail comes down to one thing: cost.
“It’s all the work you have to do,” Inglish says.
“I mean a light rail line is going to cost you $30 to $40 million on the bottom end for street development because you’re building to a 55 to 60 mph standard, but you’re never going to go that fast in a street operation. Whereas a standard streetcar operation is going to be $10 to $20 million — I mean Portland’s was $10 million a mile.
“You’re basically putting tracks in the middle of the street. You’re not grade separating anything. It’s signal prioritization and some stops. You’re in business and the cars are not designed and built to go as fast as light rail vehicles. It’s really a next level down and the next level after that is buses.”