Utah Transit Authority General Manager John Pingree confirmed late Thursday he is one of two candidates being considered to head a troubled transit district in Oakland, Calif.

Pingree said he did not apply for the position of general manager at the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District and answered, "I don't know," when asked what he would do if offered the job.He said he earns $86,000 as UTA general manager, a post he has held since 1977. AC Transit, as it is known to East Bay residents, is reportedly planning to pay its new general manager between $80,000 and $100,000.

Besides more money to compensate for the higher cost of living in northern California, Pingree declined to specify what it would take to lure him way from UTA to a bigger transit system that serves more than twice as many riders.

One UTA board member said that if Pingree is serious about the Oakland job, a special board meeting might be called to consider how to entice him to stay in Utah.

"I'll fight to keep him," Robert Wood, the board treasurer, said. "I think the board would work very hard to keep him."

Wood declined to say what incentives might be offered. Although he said that boosting Pingree's salary is only one option available, he said the board is limited in what it can do.

The AC Transit board agreed Wednesday to make an offer to at least one of seven finalists for the position, according to a transit district spokesman, Mike Mills.

The board, which is scheduled to meet again July 6, hopes to hire a new general manager by the end of July, Mills said.

While Pingree said he understands he is one of two top contenders, the Hayward, Calif., Daily Review reported Wednesday that he is the first choice of the AC Transit board. The information was attributed only to a "source close to the selection process."

The new general manager would be the transit district's sixth in five years. The person selected would be confronted with criticisms levied at the transit district by both an Alameda County Grand Jury and state lawmakers.

In a report released June 22, the grand jury called for the resignation of five of the seven AC Transit board members, including one who has been indicted by the Alameda County district attorney on charges of misusing public money.

Pingree, who met with two AC Transit board members in Oakland for a half-day recently, said the job "would be a very big challenge. I think you could call it a big opportunity."

This is not the first time he has been asked to apply for a job as the head of a major transit service, Pingree said, adding that he has turned down several job offers during his tenure at UTA.

Former UTA board president Scott Hansen said he is aware of the interest being shown in Pingree by other transit companies, but not surprised.

"He is one of the top three transit managers in the United States," Hansen said. "He easily runs the most cost-effective transit authority in the U.S."

Pingree, a Salt Lake native, graduated from the University of Utah and earned an MBA from Harvard University.