UPDATED APRIL 2015
Public transportation is a good way for visitors and locals to reach major attractions in Salt Lake City without the hassle and expense of renting a car or finding parking. The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) manages light rail, commuter trains and buses from Brigham City to Payson. For families, the most convenient public transportation will likely be the Trax light rail system and the Frontrunner commuter train.
We live in the Salt Lake City area, and though we use our own car to get around most of the time, we also use public transportation because it is practical and fun. My kids would rather ride the train than drive any day. Public transportation is especially convenient when we want to avoid downtown parking, rush hour traffic or driving in the snow. Special events and the Christmas holiday season are also good times to use public transportation in Salt Lake City.
Here is what you need to know to make public transportation in Salt Lake City a fun family experience:
Salt Lake City is the largest metropolitan area in Utah, but most residents own cars and do not rely solely on public transportation. Most locals use UTA to commute to work or school, or for major events that draw large crowds like a game or a concert.
Trax and bus lines run every day of the week, but arrive less frequently during off-peak hours. Frontrunner does not run around the clock, or on Sundays at all. Because demand for public transportation is still somewhat limited, services are limited on Sundays and holidays.
If you are planning to stay in and around downtown Salt Lake City, Trax is a pretty good bet. There is a Trax line from the airport to downtown, and Trax can get you within a couple of blocks of just about anywhere you'd like to go downtown or near the University of Utah.
If your trip takes you outside of downtown Salt Lake City or off the Frontrunner line, try UTA's trip planner to get specific information on which train and bus routes will get you there. If your route is not as efficient or direct as you'd like, you may want to consider a rental car or other alternate transportation.
Check the schedule
We usually rely on Frontrunner to get us to and from Salt Lake City, and then we hop on Trax when we arrive. The only thing we don't like about Frontrunner is that outside of peak commute times, it only runs once per hour and it does not run on Sundays at all.
If your luck is like ours, you will arrive at the Frontrunner station on a Saturday as the train pulls away. After waiting for an hour for the next train once or twice, we learned to check the schedule at rideuta.com. UTA also cooperates with several third-party apps that can help you plan your route, keep track of schedule and spend less time waiting around at the station.
Group rate and discounts
The promotional group pass will be the best option for many families, especially on Frontrunner. With this pass, four individuals can ride together on one round-trip, on Frontrunner, Trax, or buses for $15.
Children under age 6 ride FREE! Even when my son didn't need a ticket, the group pass was still the least expensive option for our family.
Use the Free Fare Zone
Even if you drive your own car to downtown Salt Lake City, park once and use Trax to get from one attraction to another. No ticket required.
Bring on-board entertainment
Frontrunner has tables on the upper deck, and my kids think it's really fun to play Uno, War or Go Fish on the train. We have used traditional car games like I-Spy and the Alphabet Game as well. The trains have free Wi-Fi, so it's easy to stay connected and entertained on phones and tablets.
Try the Ski Bus
During the ski season, ski buses are dedicated to transporting skiers and snowboarders up the canyons from Park and Ride lots. These popular buses help reduce congestion in narrow canyons and parking lots. It's an especially good option if your vehicle is not built for steep and snowy mountain roads, or if you'd just prefer not to drive on them.
Getting there is half the fun when we take the train. Trax and Frontrunner now cover more than 80 miles from north to south. East/west Trax lines run to the University of Utah, the airport, Sugarhouse, Daybreak and West Valley City. So, it's easy to reach many popular destinations outside of downtown. Check out my post Frontrunner Fun to get ideas for fun family day trips.
Here is the current Trax and Frontrunner map.
Planning a trip to Salt Lake City?
You can easily reach these destinations by public transportation.