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Before long, the Utah Transit Authority will be operating invisible stealth buses in and around Salt Lake City, and placing all bus and train schedules behind a password-protected website. The people who run the local transit agency don't seem to think the rest of us have any right to know what they are up to.

UTA bosses say they want to discontinue the long-standing free-fare bus zone that allows people to get on and off buses in a limited area of downtown Salt Lake City without paying. One of the reasons for that push, UTA officials say, is that the free service encourages the local riff-raff to hitch a free ride and, while they are at it, to commit crimes.

That might be a good reason for eliminating the free-fare zone, even though continuing it would be good for downtown businesses, residents and visitors. But no one affected by the decision is likely to think the UTA's proposal makes sense unless the agency can take that assertion about crime and back it up with some facts and figures.

But it won't. Even when presented with an open-records request for such crime statistics by The Salt Lake Tribune, as part of the newspaper's ongoing crime mapping project, the transit agency won't divulge the information.

Amazingly, UTA claims that it does not maintain a database that pinpoints the locations of the crimes the agency's own 58-officer police force investigates. If The Tribune, or anyone else, wants that information, says UTA, the agency is only willing to turn over copies of some 7,100 tickets and incident reports, which are stored electronically, and let the requesting organization or person piece together all the information. That will cost whoever wants the information an estimated $6,700 just for duplicating records, plus an unknown, and apparently unknowable, amount for UTA staff to redact any personal information that those records might contain.

It is simply not credible for a 21st century organization that is built around logistics to claim that it doesn't map such data, if only for its own need to determine where and when its police officers should be posted.

Meanwhile, the agency continues to stonewall a request from The Deseret News for details about the apparently very lucrative retirement benefits drawn by retired UTA General Manager John Inglish.

UTA is a public agency. It is funded by the taxpayers — federal and local — and by those who feed its ever-hungrier fare boxes. It needs to start treating that public as its customers — its partners — if it hopes to fulfill its mandate.