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UTA reverses push to make van poolers pay for car washes

Published December 9, 2016 12:03 pm

Complaints • One rider says it was like making bus riders pay to clean their buses.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After customer complaints, the Utah Transit Authority is retreating from an attempt to require vanpool passengers to pay for cleaning the UTA-owned or leased vans — which apparently was in violation of its own rules.

"It is like riding a UTA bus, but they want you to clean it," said Bruce Childs, who rides a van pool from Tooele to Hill Air Force Base daily, and brought the situation to the attention of The Tribune.

Vanpool customers pay for the service — usually between locations not easily covered by other bus or rail service — based on how far they travel and how many people are in the pool.

In Child's case, he pays about $180 a month for his van pool — and the Air Force reimburses that full amount. In return, UTA provides the vans and pays for gasoline and maintenance, or did.

Controversy started in November when UTA sent a letter to vanpool customers complaining that inspections showed that many were failing to keep their vehicles clean, which it said reflected poorly on the agency.

"We have noticed a staggering number of vehicles unclean, inside and out," it said.

"Cleanliness is not only important to UTA, but is an advertising component for the vanpool groups to maintain ridership; a clean van is an attraction for future participants."

Childs said that reminded him that he needed to add money to a card supplied by UTA for a carwash in Tooele.

"I didn't read the letter all that closely," Childs said, and he missed a postscript under the signature on the letter.

It said, "Note: To continue providing cost effective pricing we will no longer be offering the courtesy carwash tickets."

So Childs was turned down when he tried to add money to his carwash card.

So he emailed UTA noting that its vanpool manual notes that "van pools are allowed one (1) van wash voucher per month provided by the UTA," and also allowed van poolers to be reimbursed for miscellaneous operating expenses.

So he asked if he should submit his carwash receipt for reimbursement, or possibly use his gas card for washes.

UTA said no to both, and noted "the vanpool manual will be updated to reflect this and cleaning expectations." But it said it would send him a couple carwash vouchers "to support your efforts in maintaining a clean vehicle."

The UTA email again noted that discontinuing the car washes was part of an effort "to continue to provide low costs to our customers," which Childs said he found a bit funny for an agency that has been criticized for high executive salaries.

After The Salt Lake Tribune inquired about the situation, UTA spokesman Remi Barron said the agency has decided to reverse course. "We will continue issuing cleaning vouchers as needed and we have notified our customers."

He explained in an email, "While the contract with UTA vanpool customers does not say we will provide wash and cleaning vouchers, the vanpool operations manual does. We rely on the vanpool users to keep the vans clean, as they do not come to our facilities regularly."

Barron added, "We want the vanpool experience to be as positive as possible for our customers, so in response to feedback we have received, we have reconsidered this decision."






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