A depleted workforce led to a 50% reduction in the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) ski buses during the 2022-23 season. This was due to worker shortages, caused by a lack of hiring during the pandemic, and employees leaving UTA (retirements and resignations) over the past couple of years. In spite of moving to bigger buses, this led to huge lines.
Due to a lack of funding from the State of Utah (UTA is government-run), they’ve been forced to double down on this bizarre strategy that hurts Utah’s winter tourism industry. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that UTA’s bus services will have fewer routes and departure times for the second straight winter. This comes after UTA told KSL around a month ago that they’ll “be in a much better position for this [upcoming] season.”
UTA has a lot of job openings, with 864 job positions, 101 of which are for bus operators. Andreas Colman, who is the regional general manager of UTA, described what they’re going through at the moment:
“We’re on the right path, but it is a slow path. Our turnover as an agency is around 10 operators a month just due to retirements. And so we need to hire that, and then above that, in order to have those net increases.”
This move is in spite of the Cottonwood ski resorts, especially in Big Cottonwood, doubling down on paid parking. Solitude is transitioning from paid parking to parking reservations on weekends and holidays this winter, while Brighton is going from free parking to parking reservations every day. Over in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta already has paid parking reservations on weekends and holidays, and Snowbird has paid reservations in a few of their lots.
These efforts by the four ski resorts were simple: for people to carpool and use mass transit. With more cuts, it seems like carpooling will be promoted by the resorts. In addition, the private bus services that were introduced last season will return, but these come at a cost for riders. They could also try enforcing the tire traction law for once but don’t count on it.
For employees at the ski resorts, they’ll continue to rent out vanpools from UTA, where they bring workers up to the mountains instead of having them park there. Travis Holland, who’s the Communications & PR Manager over at Solitude, told the Tribune that they’re looking at alternative options to bring employees up.
The 2024-25 season will be a big one for the Cottonwood Canyons. A toll system will likely be introduced, likely adding another fee for drivers. This is also when bus service is supposed to be brought back to normal during the 2024-25 season. In addition, a new parking lot/transit hub will be added. Skiing in the Cottonwoods, which is known for having arguably the best snow on the planet, is now also recognized for its mind-numbing traffic and crowds.
Will UTA be able to bring bus service back to normal in 2024-25? I have my doubts. In the meantime, the State of Utah needs to step up and help UTA out, and give more incentives to hire people. If you do take a UTA trip in the near future: be nice to your driver and thank them for what they do, because they’re going to have their hands full this coming winter. Perhaps even give them a tip.
In terms of how the State can barely run a functional ski bus service, yet expect to be able to run a ginormous gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon… We’ll let you draw your own conclusions.