SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Transit Authority is moving thousands of passengers a day on a 6-mile light-rail line to Salt Lake City International Airport from the city's downtown, with ridership exceeding expectations, transit analysts said Friday.
About 4,800 people a day boarded the line from the downtown station during the first week of operation starting April 15.
The line is also tempting thieves who use it for getaways after stealing luggage from airport terminals.
Two men have been arrested in the past week for baggage thefts, and authorities are stepping up security by randomly asking people hauling luggage to show proof of ownership, said Barbara Gann, a spokeswoman for the airport.
"We're catching these thieves, and we anticipated this phenomenon," Gann said. "Other cities opening rail transit to airports have had the same experience."
The daily passenger count of about 4,800 people doesn't include passengers headed to the airport who were already on the Green line before a downtown stop. The Green line originates in West Valley City.
Analysts can't determine from electronic boarding records how many people are getting off at the airport, but the trains are generally crowded throughout the day with baggage-carrying passengers, UTA spokesman Remi Barron said.
Bruce Jackson, who owns City Cab, said the rail line has left plenty of business for taxis because the trains can't serve everybody or people in a hurry.
"It's busy for us," Jackson said. "We haven't even noticed light rail is in play. We really haven't seen a significant impact."
Airport service was a crowning touch for the rapidly built regional rail transit system that stretches for 87 miles along the heavily populated Wasatch Front.
The line has prompted many people to rethink how they get to the airport, which was previously possible only by driving or taking a taxi.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it was starting to use rail transit instead of buses or vans to send Mormon missionaries to the airport from training centers in Provo and Ogden.
Airport trains run every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends.
In little more than a dozen years, Utah has aggressively built a 140-mile rail system.
The Brookings Institution recently determined it's convenient for about 65 percent of commuters in its service territory, more than any other U.S. metro area.
The high marks for transit are partly an accident of geography. Utah is largely a rural state of high mountains, deep canyons and vast deserts, which has concentrated 2 million people along the Wasatch Front.
Rail can move more people on fewer lines in the region that has a major population packed inside a strip no wider than 15 miles instead of a sprawl.
"It's an urban corridor perfectly suited for rail," said Steve Meyer, chief capital development officer for Utah Transit Authority. "We have 78 percent of the state's population inside our system."