SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah Transit Authority trustee said Thursday contracts with BYU and Utah Valley University to provide free transit passes to students, employees and their families over the next decade should be voided and re-negotiated.
"I love the idea of passes. I support them. It's not like I'm trying to be the Grinch who stole Christmas," the trustee, North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor, said. "The board should have been involved in a decision to discount the passes so deeply."
A regular adult transit pass costs nearly $2,400 a year, but Taylor said under the new program, the per-pass cost to Brigham Young University and UVU annually could be around $20.
"It's crazy. It's totally inappropriate," Taylor said, for what he called the "Average Joe citizen who's paying the taxes" that largely fund UTA to have to pay so much more for a transit pass.
UTA spokesman Carl Arky said in a statement Thursday that the agency's general counsel has reviewed the agreements with the universities "and confirms they are in compliance with UTA's existing policy."
Arky said the agency "has historically created fiscally sound partnerships with a wide variety of educational institutions in the UTA service area during the past two decades."
He said the UTA board "has had knowledge and understanding of the longstanding agreements made with our educational partners through the years" and defended the cost of the BYU and UVU deals.
"Since educational institutions must purchase passes for 100 percent of their enrollment, UTA prices these large pass contracts based on projected usage and not on a per-pass basis," Arky said.
He said pass programs on college campuses "generate additional revenue for UTA and greatly increase ridership with no cost to taxpayers" while saving money on new parking facilities, and that the agency was grateful to BYU and UVU for participating.
Taylor, an officer in the Utah Army National Guard, is set to deploy to Afghanistan before the next UTA board of trustees meeting later this month. He said he wanted to make a last effort before leaving to raise concerns about how UTA is run.
"This is just another living, breathing example of what I think has been the problem," Taylor said. Considered a maverick on the board, he said UTA trustees have been a "rubber stamp," unwilling to challenge the administration.
The statement from Arky said UTA "thanks him for his service to our country and his service to UTA" and expressed appreciation for "the perspective he has brought to various matters. ...and his efforts to make UTA a better agency."
In December, the presidents of the two universities joined UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson in the parking area of BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium for the announcement.
The agreement calls for each campus to pay $1 million annually over 10 years to buy a total of about 100,000 UTA passes at a discounted rate that will provide free access to the agency's buses, TRAX light rail and FrontRunner commuter trains.
The program is set to start in August, the same time a new bus rapid transit line in Utah County now under construction is scheduled to open. The line, known as the BRT, will travel along a 10.5-mile loop that includes some bus-only lanes.
The free passes are intended to boost ridership on the new line, which has been compared to a light rail system and encourage less driving to and from the campuses.
In a letter to trustees Chairman Greg Bell, Taylor questioned the policy that allows the agency boss to negotiate and approve contracts for discounted passes.
Taylor also said Benson "took authority he did not have" when he extended the program to family members of students, faculty and staff on the campuses under that same policy.35 comments on this story
He said the UTA board "must reassert its authority over and management of this agency" and urged trustees to void and renegotiate the contract and strengthen the policy dealing with discounts.
Also called for in his letter is a financial analysis of the university pass programs to "see if they should continue to be subsidized so much, while Utah taxpayers struggle to pay for UTA fares at dramatically higher rates."
UTA has been under scrutiny by lawmakers, who are expected to consider a proposal to replace the current management structure with a three-member commission during the upcoming legislative session.