Utah politicians are proud of all of the light-rail and commuter-rail lines that the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has managed to build. But to do so, UTA has built up $2 billion of debt, and 30 percent of its revenues must go to service that debt. This greatly reduces its ability to improve transit to serve a growing area.
Now the state legislature has found a solution to this problem: Abolish UTA. Or, to be precise, replace it with a new entity that has a new governing body, new taxing authority, and restrictions on how it can spend its money.
Unfortunately, merely replacing UTA’s fifteen-member board with a three-member commission won’t solve the real problem: the agency has always gone for the high-cost solution to any problem. For example, as of the end of 2016 it has spend $2 billion (in 2016 dollars) constructing a commuter-rail system that barely carries 8,000 roundtrips per weekday. This is almost unimaginably wasteful, except it just a matter of course for the transit industry. Continue reading
Utah Transit Authority executives are overcompensated, the agency has underfunded its high rail maintenance costs, its bus service has suffered due to financial constraints, concludes the Utah State Legislative Auditor. Moreover, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, the agency’s fare structure makes the poor subsidize the rich, which the agency has signed cushy deals with developers that sometimes financially benefit agency board members.
Sounds like a typical rail transit agency. Naturally, the agency claims (in an appendix to the report) that it is innocent of any wrongdoing. However, it cannot deny that bus service (as measured by vehicle revenue miles) declined nearly 20 percent between 2009 and 2012, years in which the agency spent close to #1 billion on commuter trains that, as of 2012, were carrying fewer than 3,200 round trips per day.
The American Public Transit Association recently named Utah Transit the transit system of the year. But it’s clear from past awards that APTA admires agencies that are best able to con taxpayers out of their money, not ones that provide the best service to transit riders. UTA, which is proud of spending more per capita than any other transit agency, seems to have done a good job of conning taxpayers. Let’s hope audits like this one will open their eyes.
The Antiplanner is flying to Salt Lake City today to speak at a legislative forum tomorrow sponsored by the Sutherland Institute. The topic will be Utah’s 30-year transportation plan. Since the Antiplanner is skeptical about our ability to know things even five years in advance, you can imagine what I’ll be saying about a 30-year plan.
Thursday, I’ll be in Olympia, Washington to speak at a Senate Governmental Operations Committee work session about growth-management planning. My main message will be that growth-management created many more problems than it solved. Most important, according to Coldwell Banker, the price of a 2,200-square-foot house in Seattle is more than three times the price of a similarly sized house in Houston.
Friday I’ll be in Lake Oswego, Oregon, talking about a proposed “high-capacity transit” line to Tigard, Oregon. The term high-capacity transit is a joke, as Portland’s light-rail system can’t run more than two cars in a train (due to the city’s short blocks) and no more than 20 trains an hour. At 150 people per car, that’s 6,000 people per hour. A good busway could move nearly ten times that many people.
In any case, if I get a chance, I’ll try to post some updates over the next few days.
Taxpayers have paid for the “mostly advisory” CEO of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) to travel to more than ten countries and seventeen American cities in the last eighteen months. John Inglish was UTA’s general manager until two years ago, when he was replaced and kicked upstairs to a newly created position “as severance.”
“Nice severance,” comments a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, who notes that UTA is paying Inglish $364,400 a year (compared with $319,360 for his replacement general manager, Michael Allegra) even though Inglish has no day-to-day responsibilities for the agency. Allegra himself travels a lot, taking 1.4 trips per month, but not as much as Inglish, who averages 1.6 trips a month.
These two are not the only UTA officials who travel a lot at taxpayers’ expense. The entire UTA board traveled to Portland to see its transit operations. The board chair has been to Australia, Hong Kong, Switzerland, and numerous American cities.
Utah is so intent on building rail transit that it is willing to cook the books and systematically overestimate ridership in order to support its ridiculously expensive rail projects. One commuter-rail line, for example, is expected to attract a 6,100 new transit riders a day, or 3,050 new round trips, for a mere $612 million. At 4 percent interest, that’s enough money to give every one of those new round-trip riders a new Toyota Prius every other year for the next 30 years.
The latest development is that state archeologists have warned that a proposed commuter-rail station and mixed-use development is on a 3,000-year-old archeological site. The solution? Fire the archeologists. Of course, the state maintains the firing has nothing to do with rail transit; they just don’t have the funds to keep the archeologists on staff. Maybe that’s because they are wasting so much money on rail transit.