Does the Utah Transit Authority need a multi-million-dollar name change?

After years of insulation from the taxpayers who pay for it, UTA is getting a much needed overhaul of its governance structure. So tattered is the public perception of Utah’s largest mass transit system that Utah legislators included a name change in the overhaul. UTA is to become TDU – Transit District Utah.

Legislators wisely did not put any timetable on the name change, and that’s because it will take millions – UTA estimated $50 million – to change the name and logo on all the buses, trains, stations and stationery.

Spending $50 million on a cosmetic change? That sounds more like the old UTA than the new, more fiscally responsible transit system we’re supposed to be getting.

The reason for a name change is to break from the past, and there is no question that break is needed. But the low public opinion of UTA doesn’t have to do with the the red, white and blue buses and trains. It has to do with overcompensated bureaucrats who operated with inadequate accountability. Ask riders what they think of their drivers and buses, and it’s generally pretty positive.

Taxpayers aren’t stupid. They won’t be impressed with a new acronym, but they would notice a house cleaning.

Specifically, UTA needs a management change more than it needs a name change. After the governor names the three transit officials who will oversee the agency in the fall, the first order of business is finding new leadership that, for the first time in 45 years, comes from outside Utah Transit Authority. If the three officials come in and pronounce the current UTA management team as the people to change UTA’s culture, the public will be skeptical. They should be.

Instead of glossing over the failures of the past by painting the buses, make UTA prove it’s different in more concrete ways, like increasing its ridership. UTA hasn’t added riders in recent years, even as the population and traffic gridlock grows and more young people are learning to live without cars. UTA desperately needs more money to improve services while still retiring its massive $2 billion debt, but it needs to make measurable improvements with what it has now before it gets more.

Do the important stuff first before embarking on a name change. If UTA can be a model of efficiency instead of pork, it won’t need lipstick.