A legislative audit has been released that strikes hard at the Utah Transit Authority and highlights things such as a perceived lack of board oversight, high executive salaries and "unreliable" passenger data.

It calls for more state oversight of the agency and said UTA could look to eliminate low-performing bus routes, and develop criteria for outlining how it uses public subsidies.

"UTA is unlike most special districts due to its size and importance to the overall state economy," the audit said. "For this reason, UTA may require more state-level oversight than special districts normally receive."

UTA officials are now responding to the audit in the Legislative Audit Subcommittee. A prepared response to the audit from general manager John Inglish said the agency is aware and has taken steps to improve its passenger data and improve ridership on buses.

Early last year, it implemented a bus route redesign in Salt Lake County with the goal to increase ridership by 10 percent. And just this week, the Board approved new ridership numbers obtained through a new passenger counting system.

As for salary, Inglish said his pay was in-line with other transit agencies and also the private sector. In 2006, he had a base salary of $266,614, but other top bosses had an average salary of about $196,000, the audit said.

"UTA is continually competing with the private sector for its employees," Inglish wrote in response.

He also defended his 15-member board as well-qualified and said a majority are former public officials. The audit, however, said the board did not effectively use its internal auditors and may be relying too heavily on UTA management for guidance.

Some possible steps outlined in the audit to improve accountability, included:

• Having members appointed by Governor or Legislature.

• Having the Governor appoint board chair

• Having the board elected by the public

• Having the Governor appoint internal auditor

"We are concerned that UTA's Board of Trustees lacks independence," the audit said. Board members are currently appointed by local public officials in six Wasatch Front counties.

Orrin T. Colby Jr, president of the UTA Board, said in a prepared response he believed the Board has been substantially improved since prior years and now takes a broad look at UTA issues rather than minutia. He also said it was important to have some consistency among board members in regards to term-limits.

"When viewed from our historical experienceOBoard governance is the most effective it has ever been," Colby wrote.

He defended the Board's use of auditors, but said it could be better about documenting its use of the auditors to check on UTA.

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com