Nov 22, 2022 - News

Little Cottonwood gondola tickets must be cheap to entice riders

A gondola is drawn next to a photograph of a mountain.

A rendering of a gondola tower in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Image: Utah Department of Transportation.

The proposed gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon likely would need taxpayers to foot a bigger share of its costs than Utah's other public transit options do, FOX 13 reported.

Why it matters: The $550 million gondola has already been criticized as a taxpayer giveaway to Alta and Snowbird ski resorts — the only destinations it would serve.

Details: To entice riders and alleviate traffic in the canyon, the gondola would have to cost significantly less than the projected road toll of $25-$30 per car, UDOT has said.

  • The gondola ride would also take longer than the drive up the canyon.
  • But cars often carry more than one person, so a $30 road toll would still be cheaper than, say, $17 gondola tickets for two people.

By the numbers: The cheaper the gondola tickets, the larger share taxpayers would have to cover for the construction and operating costs — the latter of which could total $7 million per year.

  • Assuming the gondola is full each morning and afternoon, the lowest total cost per rider would be about $90, an Alta city official told FOX 13.
  • But UDOT acknowledges the gondola won't be full every day, and Alta City previously estimated the per-rider cost would be closer to $111, FOX 13 reported.

Reality check: Virtually all public transit costs more to operate than is collected in fares.

Yes, but: Fares normally cover a bigger share of the cost of public transit in Utah. UTA in 2019 collected about 16% of its costs from fares paid, a BYU civil engineering professor told FOX 13.

  • By comparison, a gondola rider would have to pay $17 to cover 16% of an actual per-rider cost of $111.
  • At that price, the gondola is only cheaper than driving for skiers who are traveling alone — unless UDOT increases the projected road toll.

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