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UTA board, lawmakers at odds over implementing name change

The UTA office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 29, 2018. The 2018 Legislature passed SB136 which mandates changing the name of UTA to Transit District of Utah. UTA says the name change will cost $50 million.
The UTA office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 29, 2018. The 2018 Legislature passed SB136 which mandates changing the name of UTA to Transit District of Utah. UTA says the name change will cost $50 million.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Don't look for the Utah Transit Authority's new name to start showing up on buses or anywhere else until a new management team takes control of the agency sometime before Nov. 1, UTA Board Chairman Greg Bell said Friday.

"We're going to put off as much as possible because there's clearly not a consensus in the community about how to go forward on that," Bell told the Deseret News. "We don't have it in the budget. So no, we're not going to do anything significant."

That surprised Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, one of the co-chairman of the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force behind a new law overhauling the agency.

"I don't want the Legislature to have to micromanage UTA. My hope is they will just take it upon themselves and do it and move forward with that stuff," Schultz said. But he said lawmakers will get involved "if they keep dragging their feet."

UTA becomes the Transit District of Utah on May 7, he said, when the bill making major changes to the transit agency takes effect, including putting three full-time trustees appointed by the governor in charge.

Schultz said he has already talked with UTA about what it needs to do, including trying to sell the naming rights to its buses, TRAX light rail and FrontRunner trains so vehicles would carry corporate names rather than the new name.

"Why not get out there and find ways to make money?" he asked. "They need to think of other revenue sources than just the taxpayers of this state. That's part of my frustration. We'll see where this goes."

The latest back and forth over renaming UTA comes after the Deseret News reported on documentssubmitted to the Legislature detailing a $50 million price tag for a name change and other costs associated with the new law overhauling the agency.

The bill did not provide money for the name change or the additional staffing UTA said was needed under the new management structure, or offset what the agency warned could be up to a nearly $61 million loss in federal funding.

Instead, the bill spelled out that the name change should be made by UTA over time as resources permit.

Bell, a former lieutenant governor appointed to the UTA by Gov. Gary Herbert, said UTA staff has been "directed not to discuss the name change" or the estimates in the documents provided to lawmakers.

"I don't want them to talk about it," Bell said. "We did it in good faith. It speaks for itself. We have no agenda in making anyone believe that fiscal note."

He said he has not talked to the governor about how to handle the name change. Herbert has said he wants to "put the pause button" on renaming the agency because he wasn't aware of "any compelling reason" for the new name.

Bell said waiting to transition to TDU is consistent with the law because UTA doesn't have the money. The agency's estimate included more than $3 million for rewrapping the agency's 556 buses and $900,000 for 1,800 new uniforms.

Even if UTA wanted to start small, Bell said, "We don't have a design. We don't have a marketing campaign. We don't have anything this year to launch a major rebranding."

But he was careful to say UTA wasn't trying to lobby lawmakers on the issue.

"I'm not expecting or handicapping whether they're going to change the name. I have to assume they won't," Bell said. "This is a policy decision for the Legislature and the governor and not our board."

A new legislative transportation task force created by the bill is expected to discuss the name change. Schultz said he never rules anything out.

"There's always things that pass one year and changes the next," he said.

The state representative was critical of UTA for putting such a high price tag on the new name and other changes made by the bill, including more than $1.2 million for the new management team and five new staffers.

"They have taken this and blown it out of the water as they do everything," Schultz said. "It doesn't need to be this. The thought of spending $50 million to change the name of UTA makes me as mad as it makes everybody else."

He said rather than look at adding new staff, UTA should be looking at what jobs can be eliminated, starting at the top. The agency, Schultz said, should "go in there and cut some of the fat that's not needed."