BY BECKY GINOS
SALT LAKE CITY—He’s been a city council member, mayor, Utah senator and Lt. Governor, now Greg Bell has assumed the role of chairman of the UTA board.
“I’ve been on the board for about a year and now I’ve taken over as chair,” said Bell. “My first order of business is to work with the public and stake holders to make sure it’s being run in an honest, efficient way and that tax dollars are being spent in a proper way.”
UTA has taken some heat in the past, but Bell intends to change that. “We’re putting controls on money, travel, etc. and imposing strict standards, even beyond what the law requires,” he said. “Board members don’t receive a salary. This is volunteer service. If the public could only see the disclosures I have to go through to make sure anything I do doesn’t somehow gain me an advantage. They’ve done a nice job in terms of setting things up in a way the public can trust UTA.”
Gov. Gary Herbert appointed Bell to the position. “My assignment is to make sure everything is handled correctly and represents the state’s interests and that the budget and procedures are operating within the law.”
Transportation plays an important part to the solution of Utah’s air quality problems, Bell said. “Our goal is to provide a pleasant, efficient transit for people,” he said. “We have to balance transit with other modes for a complete system. UTA has a real commitment to expand the system and run efficiently while securing taxpayer dollars.”
Bell is no stranger to public life, having served as a Farmington City Council Member and Farmington Mayor. “I started in 1990 on the city council and served two terms as mayor from 1994 to 2002,” he said. “I became the chair of Envision Utah and then joined the legislature in 2003 and served as a senator for central Davis County until 2009.”
In 2009, Herbert selected Bell to be his Lt. Governor. He served in that position until 2013. He’s been the President/CEO of the Utah Hospital Association since 2014. “The governor nominated me to be chair of the USTAR board,” said Bell. “USTAR had a critical audit. We turned staff over and hired mostly all new senior staff. The new staff and board instituted a lot of new concepts and procedures and worked with the legislature to reorient USTAR. It’s running extremely well now. There is able leadership there.”
Bell is taking on the UTA post with somewhat the same spirit. “I’m coming in with the knowledge and understanding to make UTA internally and externally transparent and effective,” he said.
His big goal is addressing air quality. “We have big air problems here and the inversions hurt our ability to attract big companies,” said Bell, “if we don’t take control with a ‘pollution solution’ like UTA.”
Transit is a function of gas prices and convenience. “If gas is pretty affordable people drive – but they feel the pinch when gas goes up. Then they think of transit,” said Bell. “It’s pretty cool to have a car. You can go where you want so we’re trying to be innovative with transit use.”
Bell said they use a first and last mile concept. “Once someone is on a bus or TRAX it’s pretty convenient. They’ll do one transfer. But if it takes too long or too many transfers, people won’t do it. We’re working on a reliable system.”
Last week UTA had a Free Friday to encourage using transit. “A free fare day is expensive,” said Bell. “It costs about $100,000. We also just announced a 10 year agreement with BYU/UVU that every faculty member, student and dependent will have free access to our system and ride for free.”
A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line with service to BYU, UVU and FrontRunner will be coming this year, Bell said. “There will be a dedicated right of way and special lights and it won’t be subject to traffic jams or wrecks creating fast, efficient rapid transportation,” he said. “It’s going to blow the doors off of mass transit.”
The expansion at Primary Children’s, Huntsman and the University couldn’t have been done without TRAX, he said. “It enabled it to grow up there. TRAX is packed with teachers, students and medical staff. Well over 100,000 people use it on a daily basis.”