SALT LAKE CITY — Even though the new law changing the name of Utah Transit Authority to Transit District of Utah officially takes effect Tuesday, the agency's customers aren't going to notice anything different.
The UTA name will still appear on buses, light rail and commuter trains, as well as signs and tickets. Even the transit agency's phones will still be answered by someone saying, "Thank you for calling Utah Transit Authority."
UTA communications director Andrea Packer said the name change won't happen overnight.
"On Tuesday, May 8, the public is not going to see anything different," Packer said. "We are obligated to comply with SB136, but the bill language does allow the name change to be implemented over time."
For now, she said, an inventory is underway of everything at UTA that bears the current name. A possible bid is also being prepared for a consultant to help with the change, that will be considered by UTA trustees at their next meeting, on May 23.
"We're going to take those steps for the time being so that when we're ready to move forward, we can make changes in an effective way that will minimize confusion to our riders and the public," Packer said.
Just how long that will take is still to be determined, she said, noting that the consultant could be asked to come up with different timelines for making the shift to Transit District of Utah.
No one seems to be in a hurry to make the name change.
Some hope it never happens, including Gov. Gary Herbert, who said during the 2018 Legislature he wanted to "push the pause button" on the switch — even though he ended up signing the bill into law.
UTA tried to stop the name change by warning lawmakers it would cost $50 million to rebrand the transit agency, submitting a list that included hiring five new support staff members once new governance changes are in place later this year.
Those changes call for the current 16-member board of trustees and top bosses to be replaced with a new, three-member management team appointed by the governor before Nov. 1 and a smaller advisory board.
The lawmakers behind SB136 scoff at the $50 million price tag UTA put on the name change and say that the law spells out that the transition to Transit District of Utah needs to take place only as resources allow.
UTA's estimate "was a creative way to kill the bill and it's got to stop," the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said. "This thing that it's costing $50 million is absolutely unacceptable."
Harper said he'd prefer that UTA pull together information about what the name change will entail but wait for the new management team to weigh in before rolling out a different identity.
The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said "nobody believes the $50 million number" put out by the transit agency.
"The $50 million is a joke. I would scream from the rooftops if they came anywhere close to that," Schultz said. "They talk about this whole rebranding thing. Why do you need to rebrand UTA? They're a monopoly."
Schultz said it's up to trustees how they handle the name change and hinted he would be open to taking another look at Transit District of Utah once the three new appointees are in place.
If they recommend the UTA name remain, he said, "that's something we should consider."
Two current trustees who are eyeing the new positions could do just that.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker, appointed to the UTA board in 2011, said he's not sure UTA has to be renamed but would comply with the law if he ends up seeking a spot on the new management team and is selected for the job.
"If I had to make that choice, I'd do it as inexpensively as it physically could be done. If it took a few years, whatever, it would," he said, adding that he would try to persuade lawmakers to change their minds about renaming UTA.
"I just don't know that it needs to be done at the end of the day. Maybe it does. But I think if you get in there and you get the new team managing it and you get the public trust back, you probably don't need to change the name," Walker said.
Walker said he will vote against hiring a consultant to help the current board deal with the name change.
"I am a 100 percent believer that the new board should make all these big decisions," Walker said. "There's absolutely no mandate to change the name right now. That's the last thing UTA needs to do at this point in my mind."
Davis County Commissioner Bret Millburn, another UTA trustee interested in being part of the agency's new management team, also questioned why the current board would want to rush a name change.
"I'm not trying to be dismissive, but it also doesn't need to be right out of the chute, pour every ounce of resource and attention into it," Millburn said. He said what's he's hearing from people is to "slow down with this."
Millburn also said he'd like to see the new name revisited.
"With as much attention as it's garnered and the concerns raised by folks like the governor and the overall taxpayers and everybody else, I would hope there's an opportunity for a little bit more thorough discussion," he said.
What should be considered, he said, is the equity in the UTA name.
"It's kind of like, how many people call the Vivint Home whatever, I don't even know what it's called, how many people still call it the Delta Center? I think you've got to be really careful," Millburn said.
Both Walker and Millburn said UTA ought to be focused now on improving service. The transit agency's reputation has suffered as a result of critical legislative audits and an ongoing federal investigation into development deals.42 comments on this story
Last year, UTA signed a nonprosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office in exchange for cooperating in the probe and submitting to up to three years of federal monitoring.
The new name for UTA and the governance changes are just part of the new law that also allows state funds to be used for transit projects for the first time and permits local sales tax increases, too.
"This name change business is really taking people's eyes off the ball," Walker said. "You've got curve balls sliding by you and fastballs going over you, and everybody is worried about this dumb name change."