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UTA's wrong route

Published July 10, 2013 5:10 pm

Pay and bonuses are off the track
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If a private business brought in a series of major capital projects significantly ahead of schedule and under budget — as the Utah Transit Authority has resoundingly done with its recent thrust of rail projects along the Wasatch Front — then generous bonuses all around would be appropriate.

But the UTA is not a private business. It does not exist for the benefit of its board, stockholders and managers. And its habit of paying top dollar for top management is not justified.

UTA is a public agency that was created to serve two overlapping constituencies. One is the taxpayers, federal and local, who pay the bulk of the system's capital and operating costs. The other is the riders, who pay fares that are among the highest in the nation, help reduce the number of dirty and dangerous automobiles on the road and, in many cases, absolutely depend on public transit for their mobility.

UTA cannot claim that its expansion has been a success until the number of daily riders has markedly increased. And that will not happen unless many more people have reason to believe that riding buses and trains to work every day is at least as convenient and as economical as driving their own cars.

Because success by that measure has not been reached — ridership is, at best, flat, and complaints about reduced service are common — the recent round of management bonuses, on top of years of sky-high salaries for the top brass, feels like a flat tire.

The poster boy for the UTA's high-spending ways was, for a long time, former CEO John Inglish. In a complicated, and lucrative, transition that was supposed to continue to tap the long-time leader's expertise as he passed his daily duties over to new General Manager Michael Allegra, Inglish pulled down some $364,000 in total compensation for a job that was advisory, ceremonial and involved lots of international travel.

Allegra's salary and benefits last year amounted to $307,604. And the UTA board recently doled out five-figure bonuses, the highest being $25,000 to Inglish, Allegra and nine other top managers.

The reason given for all this generosity, at the expense of many people who pay to ride the system and many more who pay taxes to support a system they never use, is that UTA is blessed with a lineup of talented managers who would be poached by other systems if it were not for the high pay and bonuses available in Utah.

Maybe. But, given the ridership figures, UTA might actually benefit from a little more churn in its management.