SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Transit Authority’s Board of Trustees has received a letter from one of its' board members regarding a new contract UTA has agreed to over local universities providing it’s students, employees, and their family members free ride passes.
“I’m not treeing to be the Grinch who stole Christmas here, I think university passes are a good idea, but the process of how they are approved matters,” said UTA board member Brent Taylor.
Taylor has been a UTA board member for one year and he is Mayor of North Ogden. He is also about to deploy to Afghanistan with the United States military.
Mayor Taylor said he was not aware UTA was even discussing, let alone, signing a contract with two local universities, Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University. The contract agreement was announced in mid-December 2017.
“The (UTA) CEO negotiated the agreement and approved the agreement,” said Taylor. “That’s not checks and balances that’s not how good government works,” he added.
UTA has 16 board members. The UTA spokesperson, Carl Arky said the CEO did discuss the contract with some board members.
“As per policy the UTA Board of Trustees has given the general manager (CEO) the authority to go out and negotiate these types of agreements and also include reasonable discounts in these contracts,” said Arky.
By reasonable discount, Arky referred to the free ride pass at the universities also extending to family members.
“The ‘and family members’ is nowhere in our policy- it’s nowhere- and that is something the board should have been the ones to decide if it was appropriate to expand it to family members,” said Taylor.
“It (the UTA policy) also gives him (the UTA CEO/general manager) digression to give reasonable discounts and he has got some leeway in there, so if he wants to include family members he has the leeway to do that according to the policy,” explained Arky.
Arky said he has read the letter and appreciates Mayor Taylor’s concerns.
“It was a passionately written letter and we understand his concerns, and I think we understand where he is coming from, but we feel securely in the knowledge that the policies were followed,” said Arky.
Mayor Taylor said he wants universities to have ride pass contracts with UTA but he wants to see UTA’s transparency, and wants to see contracts reviewed by the 16 member board of trustees. He said he believes in the check and balances process and said it was not used in this contract and he believes it should have been.
“Just because it’s a good outcome, we love students, passes, transit, it’s a good thing-- a good outcome doesn’t excuse a bad process in a democracy,” explained Taylor. “The process matters to make sure the checks and balances are there.”
Arky said the new UTA board chair will have his first meeting toward the end of the month and he can decide whether to review the UTA’s policy on how the CEO negotiates contracts without board member review.
Taylor also said the discount is so drastic for students and their families that that should also have been reviewed.
“A board is there to make sure the taxpayer’s voice is heard,” said Taylor. “This is another example of how the governance at UTA is broken. The nuts and bolts of how decisions are made and who has the authority to make them… I believe it’s time for this structure, this board this UTA board, be disbanded by the legislature and a new governance model that is smaller; 16 board members is a lot, that has a full-time component, so the taxpayers of Utah have full time accountable representation at the agency.”
Arky sent FOX13 this statement in response to Taylor’s letter:
In response to questions regarding an agreement Utah Transit Authority has entered into with Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, UTA has historically created fiscally-sound partnerships with a wide variety of educational institutions in the UTA service area during the past two decades. These collaborations have increased ridership by providing access to public transit resulting in millions of trips a year, enhancing the air quality in communities along the Wasatch Front, and reducing congestion on and around the various campuses served by UTA. These pass programs generate additional revenue for UTA and greatly increase ridership with no cost to taxpayers. Partnering with colleges also saves significant taxpayer dollars by reducing the need to construct additional parking facilities on campus.
The UTA Board of Trustees has a longstanding policy that authorizes UTA’s President/CEO to negotiate agreements with educational institutions and provide reasonable discounts that take into consideration the purchase of large quantities of annual, and sometimes multi-year, commitments. Moreover, at the request of Trustee Brent Taylor, the UTA Board’s general counsel has reviewed these agreements and confirms they are in compliance with UTA’s existing policy. Additionally, the Board of Trustees has had knowledge and understanding of the longstanding agreements made with our educational partners through the years.
Since educational institutions must purchase passes for 100 percent of their enrollment, UTA prices these large pass contracts based on projected usage and not on a cost per pass basis. UTA is grateful to UVU and BYU for their support of the student pass program and for creating transit friendly environments on their respective campuses. The agreements with BYU and UVU are a continuation of UTA’s mission of increasing transit access and ridership, which will benefit all Wasatch Front residents.
As Trustee Taylor prepares to deploy to Afghanistan, UTA thanks him for his service to our country and his service to UTA. We appreciate the perspective he has brought to various matters that have come before the Board of Trustees and his efforts to make UTA a better agency.
The letter from Mayor Taylor to the UTA Board Chair can be found here: 1-11-8 Letter from Brent Taylor about UVU-BYU-Transit-Pass-Concerns.
To learn more about the UTA and dual university contract click here.