UTA built trains on the backs of big-money lobbyists, but can the system be sustained?

Published: Thursday, June 7 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

A single-ride TRAX fare went up to $2.35 in April and will increase to $2.50 next April.

But Carpenter said UTA doesn't anticipate other rate increases or asking cities to raise taxes and has a plan in place to operate under its existing budget. The agency also will study going to distance-based fares over a couple of years.

"Things are tight," he said. "But we've successfully done it to date with minimal cuts to service. We're committed to doing the same going forward."

Whatever happens, state lawmakers don't want taxpayers left footing the bill.

"We really need to do a deep analysis and look what the five- and 10-year plan really is to promote the ridership to ensure that we have a return on investment," said Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-West Jordan.

"Right now, though, I still fear that an if-we-build-it-they-will-come attitude exists. We have to be very careful about that because the Utah taxpayer has to deal with it if there's a problem."

A legislative committee took UTA to task earlier this year for failing to implement recommendations from a 2008 audit and asked the agency for a five- or 10-year plan but have yet to receive it.

"We want to see a report," said Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley. "They need to pay attention. They need to know the Legislature is watching."

Fisher worries UTA won't be able to maintain the system and fears more fare increases will compel commuters to give up on mass transit.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, said he's heard nothing since the January legislative committee meeting to assure him the transit agency has the funds to maintain the system.

"I would remain skeptical," he said.

Madsen said he's troubled that rider fares cover as little as 5 percent and only as much as 18 percent of UTA's operating costs.

"That's striking to me," he said. "I don't like the idea of people who don't use the system having to subsidize it."

Carpenter said the agency is working to comply with the audits and provide lawmakers with the information they're seeking.

Meantime, UTA will continue to pay lobbyists in Washington to pursue federal funds, though it appears big money won't be coming Utah's way in the future.

"The big grants are pretty much done and here," Carpenter said, adding the available pots of money are smaller. "They money is out there still, but it will be harder to get."

Contributing: John Daley

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