Repair, don't rebrand, Utah Transit Authority

Thursday , May 24, 2018 - 12:00 AM

Only in government would a plan to spend $50 million of the taxpayer’s money to “rebrand” a flawed organization gain any traction. Thankfully, here in Utah common sense has prevailed in the case of the Utah Transit Authority and the effort from some to give it a new look instead of fixing its problems, as we were pleased to see a pair of state lawmakers last week bring a halt to the rebranding effort.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved Senate Bill 136, which called for a complete overhaul of the transit authority, including a measure to reduce the authority’s board from 16 members to three full-time commissioners and also an effort to rebrand the agency.

The rebranding would have included everything from new paint on buses and bus stops to new business cards for employees. A preliminary study showed the work would have cost $50 million.

Amid growing pressure from around the state over the rebranding effort, including pressure from local leaders here in Weber County, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, and Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, issued a statement late last week indicating they’ve asked the transit authority to halt the rebranding effort.

We don’t argue that some change is needed with the Utah Transit Authority: the group’s actions and operations have been called in question over the past few years due to a perceived lack of transparency, lavish executive salaries, service that has been inconsistent at best and what many critics have pointed to as questionable development deals.

Lawmakers took note of the issues and passed SB 136 in March. Many of the measures within the bill will go a long way toward bringing enhanced accountability to the Utah Transit Authority; however, spending $50 million to rebrand the agency as the Transit District of Utah – in essence, spending $50 million for a new name in the hopes that taxpayers will forget just how bad things had gotten – was a step too far.

That sentiment was shared by Gov. Gary Herbert, the Weber Area Council of Governments and others.

“We said, ‘let’s take a hard look at this before we move forward with something that may or may not be necessary,’” said Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, who sits on the Weber Area Council of Governments and was part of the task force that helped draft the bill. “I think that’s a totally reasonable approach. I always say ‘measure twice and cut once’ when you’re talking about spending that kind of money.”

Indeed. It’s foolish to consider spending $50 million for a name change when it appears the transit authority’s problems could be addressed through additional safeguards and proper oversight. Getting the right people in charge of the authority will go further toward rebuilding the public’s trust than a new name and pretty paint.

We agree with those who say no to this waste of taxpayer dollars, and urge lawmakers to begin the process of dealing with the transit authority’s issues the right way – by clearing out all those who made the transit authority into the mess it is now, and bringing in people who can do the job and get the public where it needs to go.

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