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UTA's cuts to Black Friday service anger riders

Published November 23, 2012 11:19 am

Transit • Online criticism fueled by $200K-per-year pension for ex-chief.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New cuts to Black Friday bus and train service that the Utah Transit Authority says are needed to save money — hitting at the same time as news that the agency is paying its former head a $200,000 a year pension for life — had the agency scrambling Wednesday to explain developments to upset riders.

UTA was receiving so many questions via Facebook that it posted a lengthy explanation of the Black Friday Service cuts online — but it didn't pacify many of its customers.

"They're trying to justify all the CEO pension and salaries by offering limited service on an actual weekday," rider Chris Merchant posted.

That came as UTA for the first time on Black Friday will not offer regular weekday service on TRAX and FrontRunner. It instead will offer a modified Sunday service on TRAX and buses with extra late trains, and a Saturday schedule on FrontRunner.

Last year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, UTA offered Sunday schedule service on buses but regular service on trains.

In years before that, it offered regular weekday service on both buses and trains.

"To save money with the opening of all the new [train] lines and a slow economic recovery, we always look in for ways to be more efficient," UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said Wednesday. "Historically, on Black Friday, we have very low ridership in commuter hours, so it makes sense to reduce service to holiday schedules then to help us maintain service the rest of the year."

That announcement for passengers hit just as news emerged this week that former UTA head John Inglish is receiving a $200,000-a-year pension.

That comes on top of a generous severance package he received two years ago, when he stopped overseeing daily UTA operations. That gave him two years of salary — at $364,000 a year total compensation — and sent him traveling worldwide to represent the agency at industry conferences.

The pairing of developments led UTA to post online a lengthy explanation of the Black Friday service cuts on Wednesday, noting that "we've heard from many riders who have questions about how UTA sets its schedules on and around holidays."

The agency wrote, "Unfortunately, in the last few years the agency has been hit hard by the effects of the recession. This has required the agency to make some difficult decisions about where to allocate funding for operations."

UTA officials noticed that ridership on Black Friday actually is lower than on other typical Fridays in November, so it made sense to cut service then, the agency said, adding that "even with a University of Utah football game in the afternoon and all of the lights-on ceremonies [for Christmas] last year, we carried fewer total riders than we did on [a] typical Friday in November."

So it made the cuts.

Several riders were not happy — and let the agency know online on Facebook.

Robert Chavez posted, "Using the excuse of lack of funding as the reason that I have to use unpaid time off since I can't get to work, on the same day that it comes out what kind of money the top guy is getting … creates a lot of ill will."

UTA responded that it knows the subject of salaries and pensions "are a 'sore subject,' but they were contracts set years ago and are not something we have any ability to change. Further it was something determined by UTA's board of directors, not its management or employees."

UTA has said that Inglish's pension is fair for his 35 years of service, and is based on the same formulas used for all its employees.

ldavidson@sltrib.com