Kathy Pope stands in front of the type of bus that will be used for the route between Moab and Salt Lake City. Twice a day bus service should begin April 1. [Photo by Travis Holtby/ Moab Sun News]

Moab will soon have twice a day bus service to Salt Lake City. The bus company, Salt Lake Express, has set April 1 as their hoped-for date to begin service to Grand County.

Tickets to Salt Lake City will cost approximately $38, with the shuttle dropping passengers off at three locations: the Greyhound terminal, downtown near Temple Square, and at the Salt Lake International Airport.

The buses can also drop passengers in Green River, Price and Provo.

The Salt Lake-bound buses will depart Moab at 5 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to arrive in Salt Lake at 10:30 both in the morning and at night. The southbound buses will depart the Salt Lake airport at 6:40, both morning and night to arrive in Moab at 11:30, both morning and night.

The passengers will be riding in 16-seat Mercedes Sprinter vans, with larger buses being used when demand warrants it. Trailers on the vans will allow passengers to bring bikes, pets and extra luggage with them.

This bus service will be great for Moab, as there is now no way to get directly to Salt Lake City from Moab except by driving, said Moab’s mayor, Dave Sakrison.

“The benefit is that you will now be able to get out (of Moab) without driving,” he said.

Salt Lake Express’s April maiden voyage will represent the end of what has been a two-year process to bring the new route to Moab. The process began in 2010 when the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) conducted an intercity bus study to find what areas of the state were underserved. Funded by the federal government, the study found two corridors that needed service; the first from Salt Lake, through Price and Moab, to Blanding, and the second from Salt Lake to Richfield through Highway 89.

Initially five companies expressed interest in the state grant to serve the two routes, but in the end only Salt Lake Express and Moab Luxury Coach entered bids.

“Luxury Coach only wanted to do one of the routes. We wanted both routes and we did it for cheaper,” said Kathy Pope, the head of sales and marketing at Salt Lake Express, at the City Council meeting last Tuesday.

The government grant is seen as necessary for the start-up costs associated with the first few years of operating the routes, after which Pope expects the lines to become profitable.

“When we opened up our line to West Yellowstone we didn’t make any money the first year,” said Pope. “That was similar to Moab in that it is a recreational town with no other bus service.”

The total $1.5 million of federal grant money is being provided through UDOT and a matching grant from Greyhound Bus Lines. Greyhound gave the matching grant with the provision that Salt Lake Express uses its terminal and coordinates the route times to match their schedule.

The new routes will also connect into Salt Lake Express’s other lines, which provide service to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Five dollar, discount tickets for local trips are planned for rides to places like Green River and Blanding.

“We have found that if we offer good local fares people will use us for longer rides,” Pope said.

‘Getting you there as fast as driving’ is one of Salt Lake Express’s tag lines, and something that they are able to achieve by doing 70 percent of their bookings online, Pope said at the council meeting. Because the online booking allows them to know where most of the riders are getting on, the buses don’t have to stop in every town, and when they do stop it is only for long enough to check if anyone is already there waiting.

Though Moab does have several small companies that can organize charter services to other cities, this will be the first regularly scheduled, scalable service Moab has seen.

“It sounds almost too good to be true, especially for college kids,” said David Olsen, Moab’s community development director. With his son planning to study in Logan next year, Olsen believes the bus service will save him from having to ferry his son back and forth.

Though the bus service, if successful, will be a good thing for many locals, it may have a slight, detrimental impact on Moab’s hotels, says La Quinta general manager, Marlene Rodriguez.

“We may lose some room nights. Many guests end up staying an extra night because they don’t have enough energy to drive back,” she said. “But I think the bus service will improve the tourism industry, other than for hotels.”

But until the number of buses per day and the size of the coaches dramatically increases, it is hard to see a bus service having a large impact on Moab’s many hotels.

“People traveling back and forth to Salt Lake is very common,” said city manager, Donna Metzler. “If it’s successful (the bus service) could be a great benefit to the community.”