SALT LAKE CITY — Now that lawmakers have announced the Utah Transit Authority won't have a new name after all, the agency's trustees are going to have less to worry about before their positions are eliminated later this year.
"Honestly, I don't think there's much more for us to do," Draper Mayor Troy Walker, a member of the UTA board of trustees, said Thursday. "This board's job now from my perspective is to hold the rudder until the new board takes over."
Walker said he was happy about the name change being taken off the table.
"Absolutely," he said. "We'll stop talking about it."
The same law passed earlier this year that renamed UTA the Transit District of Utah also replaces the 16-member board and top bosses with a new, three-member management team to be appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert before Nov. 1.
But on Wednesday, the lawmakers behind SB136 announced they would seek to repeal the new name next session because it was distracting from the more significant changes in the legislation.
Earlier in the day, the governor reiterated his own concerns about turning UTA into Transit District of Utah and said he was willing to call lawmakers into special session to stop the change.
The UTA board was asked by lawmakers not to go forward at their next meeting on May 23 with plans to consider issuing a request for bids on a consulting contract for an expert in rebranding.
Carl Arky, UTA's spokesman, said the agency will do whatever lawmakers want.
"All we know is we’re going to comply with any change in the direction they decide," Arky said. "We’ll no longer continue to take any steps to rebrand UTA until we’re told otherwise."
UTA board members expressed more enthusiasm about the decision.
"Fantastic," said Babs De Lay, named to the board by House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. "No one wanted the name change, to confuse the public and to cost public monies to that extent."
She said she'd "never heard a staff person or a board person say they were in favor of that."
De Lay said she had been assured that the UTA's $50 million estimate for the name change was accurate, even though lawmakers have complained repeatedly that the price tag was much too high.
"I'm not an accountant," she said. "I just had the information that was given to me."
No money was appropriated by the 2018 Legislature for renaming UTA. The sweeping transportation bill calling for the name change stated it should be done over time and only as resources allow.
Another trustee, Alex Cragun, said he believes $50 million was a good number.
"We're talking about not only rebranding buses, we're talking about signs, we're talking about websites," he said, "Just in general, every small to large piece of anything that involves public transportation in the Wasatch Front."
Plus there's labor, market research and other costs, said Cragun, who was appointed to the UTA board by Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. "Rebranding isn't cheap."
He said phasing in a new name over time would have confused riders.
"I never saw that there was a real need for the changing of the name," Cragun said. "I think having a decision once and for all, it makes sure we have a consistent message for our riders."
Trustee Jeff Acerson, the mayor of Lindon, said a lot of people he talked to didn't understand the reasoning behind the name change.
"I'm just glad that reasonable minds over time can look at things and hopefully gravitate to the right decision in the best interest of the public," Acerson said. "I think it's a good thing for everyone."
Even before the sweeping legislation that ultimately included the name change was introduced last session, trustees reluctantly voted to back the restructuring plan for UTA after being told lawmakers saw it as nonnegotiable.
Greg Bell, the chairman of the UTA board and former lieutenant governor, initially said dealing with the name change would be left to the new management team, then reversed course May 1 after he said he was told by lawmakers to pick up the pace.
At Bell's urging, the executive committee agreed to ready the bid proposal for the full board to consider. The day before lawmakers announced UTA would remain UTA, he said the agency was getting "mixed messages."
Bell said Wednesday he did not want to talk about the name change.
"This whole discussion got to a position where they just needed to make a decision," said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "It was starting to take a toll not just on the organization, but on elected officials."
He said lawmakers "were being forced to constantly explain, justify and defend this decision. The one thing they did not want to spend all their time talking about was the name."9 comments on this story
Now, Perry said, UTA can focus on fixes the public wants to see. Legislative audits have been critical of executive compensation and other issues, including transit development dealings.
Those are the subject of an ongoing federal investigation. UTA signed a nonprosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the probe last year in exchange for agreeing to cooperate and submit to federal monitoring.
"There will still be significant political discussions about the structure of UTA and how it functions," Perry said. "Some of them may continue to be fiery, but it will not be about, 'What about the name?' Because that was just a complete distraction."