A legislative audit was released Friday that struck hard at the Utah Transit Authority and highlighted things such as a perceived lack of board oversight, high executive salaries and "unreliable" passenger data.
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said the audit was "a shot across the bow" and that lawmakers would be battling this session to change how UTA is governed. The audit said the UTA board might be relying too heavily on UTA management for guidance.
"It was clear this audit said we need to change things," Valentine said. He gave no specifics about what changes might be made, but several suggestions were listed in the audit, including the following:
• Having board members appointed by the governor and Legislature
• Having the governor appoint the board chair.
• Having the public elect board members
• Having the Legislature review UTA's budget and establish standards for farebox recovery.
"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."
But Orrin T. Colby Jr., president of the UTA board, said in a prepared statement that the board's governance over UTA is "the most effective it has ever been." In years past, the board focuses on minutia, and now it focuses on broad performance goals, he said.
Colby admitted, however, his board, which is selected by local officials, could better document its processes and "reassess" how it uses its internal auditors.
John Inglish, UTA general manager, said he welcomed the audit and was not worried about legislative recourse. "The proof is in the pudding," he said about UTA's performance in building new rail lines across the valley.
The agency has a history of building projects on time and under budget, the audit said. In addition, it has received more federal funding for rail projects than most transit agencies across the nation.
Other issues highlighted in the audit included the compensation of top UTA executives, the reliability of its information on ridership and its use of taxpayer subsidies. The audit said UTA could eliminate low-performing bus routes and develop criteria for managing taxpayer subsidies and collecting fares.
Inglish said his agency 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.
Barbara Toomer with the Disabled Rights Action Committee, said she was pleased with the audit and that it brought to light things she has been shouting for years."I think it was an indictment on the board, and it was for salaries and for a lack of realizing the count of ridership," she said.
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