SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to salary and incentives for its top executive, the Utah Transit Authority is miles ahead of sister public transportation organizations throughout the West.
Last year, UTA General Manager John Inglish earned $348,929 in salary, bonuses and transportation allowances.
That's more than public transportation executives in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and Phoenix — all cities with larger populations, and in some places, millions more riders each year and more complex bus, train and van systems.
But don't judge too quickly, said UTA Board of Trustees chairman Larry Ellertson.
"We attempt to look at not any given single entity, but we look at a range" of factors, Ellertson said.
In addition to salaries of other public transportation executives, trustees consider salaries of executives of transportation companies.
"We have looked outside the public transit area, and used that information and attempted to position (Inglish's salary) in the mid-range," Ellertson said.
Another factor considered is construction, Ellertson said. UTA is in midst of a massive light and commuter rail expansion project, expected to add 70 miles of track by 2015. Inglish has been credited with securing millions in federal funding for the expansion.
Inglish is currently serving a one-year contract. Next week, trustees will vote on a proposal to promote him to chief executive officer, and on May 11, a bill officially becomes law that will allow Inglish to work in that capacity. The CEO will have a two-year contract, Ellertson said, but no pay raise is planned.
The promotion of Inglish irks some state legislators, environmentalists, and activists in the disabled-rights and Native American communities, who already believed he was overpaid.
For instance, the chief executive of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority earns almost $310,000 a year and receives no bonus. However, the Metro — the nation's third largest transportation agency — is not just a bus and train operation. The Metro is also a planning organization, estimating population and the layout of roads and public transit in the future, similar to what the Wasatch Front Regional Council does in northern Utah. The Metro partially funds bike paths, carpool lanes and provides broken-down vehicle assistance on LA County freeways, Metro spokesman Marc Littman said.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, described Inglish's salary as bloated, especially since Salt Lake City provides a cheaper cost of living than other cities in the West.
"Housing in California is twice that of Utah," he said. "There's such little justification for these bloated salaries, and then when you look at performance you have to weigh these violations in state and federal law."
Frankel is referring to construction of FrontRunner South Commuter Rail, between Salt Lake City and Provo, where a proposed future station may affect wildlife and wetlands. The location may also contain artifacts from a 3,000-year-old Native American encampment. On April 9, the Army Corps of Engineers asked UTA to halt construction in certain areas until it can consult with Indian tribes, state historians and state land officials.
Ellertson, the UTA trustee, said that Inglish's compensation was decided long before the current questions about FrontRunner construction. Problems with the Corps are the result of misunderstandings and not anything "malicious" on UTA's part. "It's something that can be worked out with the Corps," he said.
Transportation executives' compensation
General manager, Utah Transit Authority
Base: (2009): $296,339
Incentive (based on performance in 2008, paid in 2009): $42,840
Transportation allowance: $9,750
CEO, Los Angeles County Metro Transportation Authority
Base salary (2010): $309,998
General manager, Regional Transportation District (Denver area)
Base salary (2010): $275,000
Additional: Incentive, health insurance and pension will be as high as $31,449
CEO, Valley METRO (Phoenix area)
Base in 2010: $235,000
Incentive: In his contract, which the Deseret News obtained, METRO's Board of Trustees is supposed to establish at least five goals a year and if he meets them, he receives $5,000 per goal.
Executive director, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Base salary (2010): $308,837
Incentive: $0 (He agreed to a pay cut and to defer his $21,015 bonus.)