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UTA chairman says there is 'much work to do' in wake of blistering legislative audit

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27 2014 7:10 p.m. MDT

Alex Cragun speaks to members of Utah Transit Authority's board and presents them with a petition in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, with over 3,000 signatures of people asking for expanded service hours.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The day after state lawmakers' release of a scathing audit into the Utah Transit Authority's operations, the chairman of UTA's board of trustees noted Wednesday there is "much work to do."

"There is much work to do as you heard in our public comments today, as well with stakeholders, our public policymakers," said board Chairman Greg Hughes, noting that the entire organization should have a role in stakeholder relations.

Results of the yearlong audit by the Office of Utah Legislative Auditor General were made public Tuesday. The audit spotlighted questionable development deals, UTA executives' extravagant pay and bonuses, concerns over massive debt, and nearly $3 billion in expected maintenance costs for new rail projects.

No legislative audit declares an entity it examines "awesome," Hughes said. But because the audit of UTA took about a year, auditors and UTA trustees had such frequent contact that many of the auditors' recommendations were collaborative in nature, he said.

Hughes said he was proud of the board and agency's work, and he praised the large number of trustees who attended Tuesday's meeting of the Legislative Audit Subcommittee.

Many of the issues have been addressed or the agency is in process of adopting the auditors' recommendations in the audit, Hughes and board Vice Chairman H. David Burton noted in UTA's 50-page response to the audit.

"Anyone who thinks we're apologists does not understand the depth of this board. This board works hard. We roll up our sleeves," Hughes said.

Alex Cragun, a transit rider, added to the board's to-do list Wednesday, presenting it with a petition seeking expanded service hours for bus and train service. More than 3,300 people signed the petition.

"We're asking for late-night transit service. We're not specifically saying how late or how frequent, just that it actually exists," Cragun said.

In the past, UTA offered later services hours under a pilot project, but it was suspended during the economic downturn, he said.

Offering later service hours is not just a quality of life issue, Cragun said, calling it a necessity for many seniors, people with disabilities or people traveling with children.

If they miss the last bus and "don't have access to a car or money for a taxi, they're up the creek," he said.

The petition also encourages expansion of service hours to help reduce the numbers of alcohol-related accidents and injuries.

Meanwhile, Cragun and Christopher Stout, president and co-founder of the Utah Transit Riders Union, challenged the board of trustees to ride public transportation exclusively for a week and record their experiences on social media.

"The first thing to know as an end user is what it is like to use their system. For some people, it's great. For other people, not so great," Cragun said.

Cragun said he plans to return to the trustees meeting next month to find out how many board members took the challenge.

"This is a conversation between riders and those who serve them," he said.

Hughes was the only board member to publicly accept the challenge Wednesday.

"I'm game," he said.

Cragun was reticent to address the legislative audit of the transit agency but said the document clearly indicates that "UTA needs to change."

"I'm not a politician and not a policymaker," he said. "I’m just some dude who wants to get home at night."

But other transit users called out the agency and board of trustees over issues raised by auditors.

Tammi Diaz vowed to fight against any tax increase to fund UTA's operations.

"The salaries need to be cut. Bonuses need to be eliminated, and business trips need to be cut," Diaz said.

Moreover, the trustees should fire UTA executives and then "clean the board out," she said.

George Chapman said UTA needs to improve service before embarking on any new projects.

"Buses provided a better service than anything else you can provide," Chapman said. "(We) are asking you to stop building ridiculous projects like the $72 million garage. Congratulations. That is probably the most expensive garage in the world. You're really on top of it.

“Right now, you’re the most hated entity in Salt Lake County. You’re responsible for that."

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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