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Pyle: Visitors promise us a New-T-A
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Politicians and lobbyists have been heard to deny that the hours they spend schmoozing each other — at breakfasts, dinners, golf tournaments, Jazz games — are an attempt to influence the outcome of public policy debates. While you aren't listening.

These encounters are, they insist, innocent meetings of folks who just happen to enjoy each others' company and share an interest in public service.

That's bunk, of course. I know because politicians and lobbyists of all stripes want to meet with newspaper editorial boards. And they aren't doing it to avail themselves of our sparkling personalities or our sumptuous hospitality.

We mostly listen and take notes. Most days, we don't even remember to offer them coffee. Or validate their parking. They visit because they want to influence public policy, or at least influence whatever influence we have on public policy.

Us opinionators say this is ethical because: 1) We learn stuff. 2) We are equally open to those on all sides of an issue. 3) They don't give us any money. Or meals. Or Jazz tickets. Or rounds of golf in St. George. They usually leave us with reports and color brochures, sort of like you got at that last timeshare presentation.

But it can work. Which I will now prove by giving a favorable notice to a recent group of editorial board visitors from an organization we have written a lot of smack about over the years.

A delegation of lord-high-everything-elses from the Utah Transit Authority was in for a meet-and-greet. They noted that they've opened a few miles of rail lines in the last few years, way ahead of schedule and way under budget.

Board Chairman Greg Hughes raved about how the modern workforce, with laptops, iPhones and email to catch up on, just loves FrontRunner.

He's going to say that, of course, because rail is the manned space flight part of public transit. It looks cool and draws the support needed to pay for the whole system.

Like Gus Grissom said, "No Buck Rogers, no bucks."

More important, though, is that Hughes and his colleagues made a point of remembering that UTA doesn't exist just for the rich and logged-on.

On the drawing board are plans to improve service for working folks, to automate the fare payment system in a way that is accessible to both the smart-phone wielder and the person who can use a few scraped up dollars to buy a rechargeable fare card at the neighborhood drug store — or who already has a state-issued assistance debit card — and pay less than the long-distance iPadded commuter.

Nobody explicitly refuted the harsh words of now-retired, and obscenely pensioned, UTA GM John Inglish.

He was the guy who shut down a wise request for more affordable services for the poor made by Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon back in 2005 with the now-infamous line, "UTA is not a social service agency."

Yes. It. Is.

We all pay sales tax, and seek federal funds, to keep the system alive and useful so it can reduce road congestion, ease air pollution, encourage infill development and get people to work on time.

New UTA Vice Chairman H. David Burton — who only built City Creek Center in Salt Lake City and 100 Mormon temples worldwide during his many years as the presiding bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — offered a nice way of describing it.

"You've heard it called the U-T-A," Burton said. "Now, it will be the New-T-A."

We can hope.

Come back and tell us about it, guys. But take TRAX, 'cause we'll forget to validate.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, got around London for six days on the every-three-minutes Underground, and is now singularly unimpressed by anyone else's transit system.

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