Thursday, July 18, 2013

DEAR SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Dear Salt Lake Tribune:

Given that you were originally started as an anti-Mormon newspaper (you were referred to as "The Godbeite Rag" in my house, growing up), I have never spent much time on you.  But lately, I keep seeing headlines on your front page (one of your boxes is next to the 39 stop I frequently patronize) that talk, sort of, about transit.  And they confuse me.

I was under the understanding that you are the more liberal of the two major newspapers in the Wasatch Front.  You certainly seem to bill yourself that way.  So why do you hate UTA so much?

When I searched desnews.com for stories about transit, the most recent story that came up was dated June 4th.  It was about a safety exercise on the new Draper Line.  There was also an article about a man who got hit by a FrontRunner train, one about how the new Airport line was "packed" with passengers, and one about how the LDS Church is using transit to move its missionaries around.  Okay.

When I searched sltrib.com, I found stories from


June 20th
June 22nd
June 25th
June 26th
June 28th
July 4th
July 7th
July 12th
July 18th

some of which have innocuous enough titles, but contain quotes like

As previously reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, UTA ridership has been essentially flat over the last year despite the investment of hundreds of millions in new rail projects as the agency has scaled back express and other bus service.

(this in complete lack of acknowledgement of UTA's rebuttal), or

UTA General Counsel Bruce Jones — who received a $25,000 bonus beyond his other wages and benefits of $287,794


I find it distinctly odd that what the Tribune clearly considers a national crisis doesn't even make it into the Deseret News.  Could it be that you are blowing things a little out of proportion?

Consider the cost of John Inglish's pension on transit service.  A Gillig transit 40-foot bus runs about $400,000 these days (though some transit buses cost as much as $600,000, but we'll stick with the first number for now).  That means that UTA could buy another Gillig once every two years with John Inglish's pension.

(Last year, UTA bought 40 buses; in 2011 they bought 30, as well as various Paratransit buses, whose numbers I honestly don't keep track of very well)

But wait.  That's not including the cost to OPERATE the bus, of which 70% or more may be the cost to pay the driver.  Assuming that once we have bought this extra bus, we want to run it; and that the cost to run it is $124/hr, we can get 1,613 hours out of that bus per year for our $200K.  Divided by 260 weekdays per year, that's 6 hours per weekday.  At that rate, it would take about

8 years

to put the 203 back in service on weekdays for a year.  Then we'd have to wait 4 years to be able to do it again.  That's not counting the 207, 236, 327, 335, 348, 356, 389, 801, 802, 803, 804, 805, 806, 807, 810, and 817; as well as the night service cut on routes 6, 21, 39, 45, 54, 200, 205, 228, 240, 516, 519, 604, 625, 645, 811, 831, 832, and 850; and the Saturday service cut on routes 9, 11, 17, 223, 227, 228, 232, 236, 248, 472, 520, and 613; and the Sunday service cut on routes 6, 39, 45, 72, 240, and 604; as well as numerous other individual trip cuts on almost every route ever.

Clearly, getting rid of John Inglish's pension would solve everyone's problems instantly.  Sales tax has nothing to do with it.  Sorry for the math.

Your continued harping on the alleged corruption and hoodwinking of the public by evil UTA officials can only stem from either an honest misunderstanding of the situation (hopefully I've been able to shed some light on the subject) or an attempt to attract attention from the small but devoted crowd who hates UTA by continuously slandering them in print.  If it's the first, please get educated.  If it's the second, grow up.  Your attempts to stamp out the evils of UTA will at best prove ineffective and at worst will derail (pun intended) one of the best transit systems in the country.

LEAVE MY TRANSIT SYSTEM ALONE

Regards,
BUSNINJA

6 comments:

  1. I'm failing to see your point here. The Tribune is in no way saying that public transportation is bad. They having constantly encouraged expansion and use of said system. But what they do call out is the hypocrisy of the executives begging the public for more taxes when their salaries are much too high for the size of system they are running and their large bonuses are dependent upon meeting easy goals. Having UTA run a tighter ship would speak well to the public on their ability to properly utilize our tax dollars. Just because addressing the executive's benefits wouldn't fix all of UTA's budget woes doesn't mean they should be ignored. I think the Tribune is doing a great job of drawing attention to these issues while I have often found the Deseret News to be behind the times in discussing real issues that are actually relevant.

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    1. Admittedly this post was written in a hotheaded moment; I didn't make my points as clearly as I could have. They are these:

      - I don't like the Tribune.
      - I don't believe that UTA executives are necessarily overpaid (though I recognize that is a foundational assumption for many in this debate). Nor do I believe they are fleecing the public, taking the poor for a ride, in bed with the legislature, or any of the other metaphors of various levels of tastefulness people are casting about these days. Commutergirl is from Illinois, where a successful governor is one who doesn't go to prison by the end of his or her second term, and she is flabbergasted at the amount of complaining Utahans do about such comparatively well-behaved public officials, at UTA and elsewhere. That is not to say that UTA isn't, and shouldn't be, submitted to rigorous third-party review on a regular basis, and required to make improvements and increase efficiency. But I think this particular issue is being overinflated by the Tribune.
      - UTA has been doing business this way for years, with the occasional critical media article, but I don't remember such a consistent, targeted onslaught as this in a long time. Also, in my experience, articles about UTA don't usually make the top half of the front page--they usually end up on the front page of the local section. That, coupled with the gloating, self-congratulatory rehash of UTA's faults at the end of every article suggests to me not a noble campaign to educate the public so much as a particular reporter's attempt to shore up his dwindling relevance and finding an easy target with which to do so.
      - A pay cut for UTA's executives would, admittedly, free up more money to put toward restoring bus service. But based on the calculations I have done here, as well as others, I don't believe that the impact of cutting their pay even in half would finance a service increase that most of the public would even notice. Again, it's an easy target, but the public at large vastly underestimates the expense of providing transportation for both car drivers and transit riders, in part because automobile transportation has been so heavily subsidized for so many years.
      - UTA did not, in fact, request a tax increase of the legislature this past week. The tax increase of which so much has been made was one of many things that will need to happen as part of the Unified Transportation Plan over the next thirty years. UTA is one of six government entities involved in the plan, which covers transit, roads, freeways, and pedestrian amenities throughout the state. This plan was reviewed by the Transportation Interim Committee in a session that lasted over an hour-and-a-half. That the Tribune could take that entire session and only report on one conversation about a tax increase is, I feel, a gross misrepresentation of the facts. If the Tribune is so far off the mark on that point, I am disinclined to trust them regarding other matters. The Tribune apologized to UTA on Twitter about this on Friday night, and said they would correct the article; but the last time I checked, the article hadn't been changed.

      Hopefully that explains my position more clearly.

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  2. You took the words right out of my mouth! I'm getting sick of the Trib's coverage of transit issues. I've had a couple conversations with Trib reporters about UTA, and I am shocked at how ignorant they are of transportation issues. They really need to hire someone who actually has extensive experience with public transportation.

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    1. I do my best to preach transit, but there's only one of me :) Thanks as always for your support.

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  3. The Tribune has a (sometimes baffling) vendetta with UTA. I read it regularly, and everything they write is slanted to be as negative as possible.

    Ignorance of transit is common. Perhaps it might be useful to 'name names' of Trib reporters who are so afflicted.

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    1. I finally did, in the post called "Treasures from the Internet (8)" (it's a little ways down). Fortunately the recent rash of useless articles about UTA seems to have calmed down for the time being.

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