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Posted: 1:55 PM- Legislative auditors found that the Utah Transit Authority's bus service is heavily subsidized and less efficient than comparable Western services, while executive pay is substantially higher.

Light-rail service, though, is more efficient than the rail services offered by peer agencies, auditors found.

The subsidy, which auditors concede is standard for all forms of transportation, is especially high because of the agency's drive to increase ridership with no mandated recovery rate for the farebox, according to the report from the legislative auditor general's office.

"We believe that UTA's goal to increase ridership is important, but the agency should give additional consideration to the need to minimize the taxpayer subsidy of transit service," wrote the team led by audit manager Rick Coleman.

At present the public subsidy accounts for about four-fifths of UTA's operating budget.

The team is presenting its report to the Legislative Audit Subcommittee today. It finds that because UTA buses serve routes that are more sparsely populated than in communities including Portland, Phoenix, Dallas, Denver and Sacramento, its cost per passenger is higher than most. That cost is $4.35 in Utah, compared to $2.25 in Phoenix and $3.39 in Denver. Only Sacramento's cost is higher, at $4.81 per passenger boarding. Utah's numbers are skewed by particularly underperforming routes, such as the $19.71 per rider on the bus that takes an average of 10 workers 42 miles to work at the Tooele Army Depot.

Conversely, UTA's light rail draws more riders per trip than the bus system, and is more cost-effective than most peer services. At $8.18 per vehicle mile traveled, UTA is second to Denver in holding down rail costs. But it also has the highest number of boardings per mile - 5.38 - making its $1.52-per-boarding cost cheapest among the five reviewed agencies. Dallas spends $4.32 per passenger boarding.

On the whole, UTA recovers 17 percent of its operating costs in fares, the auditors found. The largest part of the rest comes from voter-approved sales taxes, though federal spending also figures in.

Meanwhile, UTA executive pay is grossly out of line with peer agencies, the auditors found. General Manager John Inglish, for instance, made about $267,000 in base salary last year, compared to a $196,000 average in a survey of other transit agencies in areas that had living costs that average 7 percent higher than Utah's.

Inglish also received a $40,000 performance bonus for meeting goals such as ridership increases, which the auditors said may have been more related to rising fuel costs than performance. He also got nearly $61,000 in other incentives including retirement and insurance.

In a written response, the agency said its executive compensation is warranted given the private-sector employers with which it competes. But the agency also said it would recommend that the UTA Board of Trustees review its practices.