A legislative audit released this week dumped 133 pages of damning findings on the Utah Transit Authority, pummeling the agency for everything from fat executive bonuses to the questionable decision to pre pay a developer $10 million up front for a parking garage that the developer never even submitted official plans for. At the UTA's board meeting, members of the public condensed the findings of the weighty audit into shorter opinions about what should happen next with the agency.
“If I could I'd fire all the executives and clear out the board!” said Tammi Diaz, a citizen who also blogs about transit issues at CatMeowPublicTransit.Blogspot.com.
George Chapman questioned the agency’s financing of costly parking structures and transit-oriented developments while neglecting bus service—a point hit upon in the audit.
“Buses provide a better service than anything else you can provide and I, along with obviously a lot of people, are asking you to stop building these ridiculous projects,” Chapman said, adding “Right now you're the most hated entity in Salt Lake County.”
The issues of costly developments were among the most stinging aspects of the audit which pointed out that UTA prepaid a developer $10 million to build a parking structure. Two-and-a-half years later UTA hired another contractor to finish the project but the developer didn't have the money to pay him back and UTA is still owed $1.7 million by the developer.
also pointed out the many perks enjoyed by those at the top of the UTA food chain including hefty bonuses, special compensations, car allowances and retirement packages.
The audit also pointed out that UTA withheld some compensation information from the state's transparency website Transparent.Utah.Gov.
Chris Stout head of the Utah Transit Riders Union, a nonprofit advocacy group, took the UTA to task over their calls for higher sales taxes while at the same time doling out rich benefits to their upper management.
“Despite that scathing audit you as members of the board and officials of UTA management still insist everything is copacetic,” Stout said. “It's time to wake up and accept responsibility for the mess that's been made. Salaries and bonuses are not comparable to other transit systems.”
UTA's response to the audit defended the compensation of it's top employees by saying that it does so in order “to successfully attract, retain, and motivate qualified high-performing employees.”
But for members of the public the overwhelming sentiment was that money was being spent on UTA employees and fancy and costly structures but not on practical services like good old-fashioned bus lines.
Alex Cragun delivered a petition signed by 3,327 citizens asking for expanded transit services especially in the evening hours.
“Many of the people who rely on UTA for transportation are low-income workers who don't fit the 9-to-5 model,” Cragun said. “They work late nights, early mornings, weekends and holidays. Lack of access to transportation on those schedules eats away at already slim budgets, creating additional hardships for those already struggling to survive.”
Cragun then challenged the board to take a “7 Day UTA Pledge” and only use UTA services for a full week and to document the experience and post it to social media. When asked who on the board would take the challenge only two members, including board chair and lawmaker Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, raised their hands.
UTA staff during the meeting met with Cragun and agreed to future discussions related to his petition.
After the public comment period closed, Hughes commented on how UTA members Tuesday went from receiving an award from the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce to attending the legislative audit hearing that slammed their agency.
Hughes defended the agency and the board and acknowledged that UTA was working hard on recommended changes offered by legislative auditors. Hughes further argued that there was a misperception about the vital work of the board he chairs.
“Anybody that says we're apologists doesn't understand the depth of this board,” Hughes said.
For Cragun who delivered the petition for additional bus service, the legislative audit seems to highlight the disconnect UTA has with customers like him who have been frustrated by trying to find bus service that will get them home at the end of the day.
“UTA needs to change,” Cragun said. “I don't know how it's supposed to change—I'm not a politician, I'm not policy maker I'm just some guy that wants to go home.”