Saturday, March 17, 2007

This shouldn't surprise anyone

Miami Fl - The Miami Herald reported on the recent firing of Roosevelt Bradley, head of the Miami-Dade Metro. The scandals swirling around Bradley shouldn't surprise anyone out there since this type of situation is all too common within public transit circles.

One scandal involved consultants. It's hard to blame Bradley or any other head of public transit on this one. Consultants routinely pull the bait and switch once they are contracted and there isn't much you can do since the consultants on transit projects pretty much have free reign during their contract and the officials in charge rarely will force their hand since they have little clue as to what the consultants are talking about. Consultants are perhaps the worst problem public transit has for inflating prices.

Another scandal involves nepotism. An age old problem and it's not limited to the public sector. In a public agency however, it shouldn't be allowed but the practice is often ignored to the detriment of the bottom line of the operation. Friends, family, former colleagues often follow new managers into the public agencies and many aren't qualified.

What Bradley did was actually no different than what occurs in most medium to large transit systems. Questionable contracts and nepotism? That seems to be the status-quo for public transit these days (as well as any public agency). Bradley was just unfortunate and got caught at it. I guess he needed more practice of being at the top before actually playing the game.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The scandal plauged PVTA in even more trouble

Springfield MA - The scandal plagued Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) of Springfield MA is in even more trouble. In the Boston Herald, a story on a recent audit of the operation that shows accounting errors totalling over $10 million dollars. These clerical errors could result in the PVTA owing the Feds more than $4 million dollars in refunds.

The PVTA has become a total disaster. Various criminal probes into its activities and now this, all trust in this government agency is gone. Even with a new executive director who is attempting to reverse the view of the PVTA, the agency will never regain the trust of the public. It will always be viewed as a scandal plagued agency and there probably will be more surprises coming up from the total mismanagement of the operation.

The best thing that could be done is to dissolve the current PVTA and create a new agency with a brand new administration. A new name, new leadership and new outlook on providing service may bring back some of the trust of the public in Springfield's transit system.

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority has earned the honor of receiving the Chambersburg Transit Authority award from Laurels & Lances for having a royally screwed up transit system.

An editorial that is somewhere in outer space

Philadelphia PA - In an editorial by The News of Delaware County regarding Philadelphia's SEPTA transit operation, it seems that the editorial writer is blind, deaf and dumb to what is occurring around him.

The writer calls on SEPTA to look at Chicago to see how to run a transit system. Excuse me while I laugh.

Is he referring to the same Chicago transit operation that is facing a multi-million dollar deficit? The same operation that was blasted in an audit for poor performance? The same operation that is under fire for totally filthy buses and rail vehicles? The same operation that is under fire for poor maintenance and poor handling of emergencies on the system?

Editorials such as the poorly written one in The News of Delaware County show how out of touch with reality today's newspaper editors are. They do no research before mouthing off and as in this example, make complete fools out of themselves.

Telling one screwed up transit system to look at and model itself after a transit system that is in worse shape is irresponsible. It shows why newspapers are dropping off circulation. You just can't believe what is said in them.

To the editorial writer of that fluff piece, you'd do your readership well if you stopped writing. Given that you had no clue what you were talking about, your only confusing people and giving them bad advice.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The never mentioned costs start to add up

Honolulu HI - The proposed rapid transit line in Honolulu hasn't been approved for even a month and the costs start to rise as expenditures that were never presented to the public to consider begin to take hold. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports on the first of many hidden costs for Honolulu's yet to be built rail line.

The Mayor, Mufi Hannemann, has requested $4.1 million to create a Rapid Transit Office as part of the Federal requirements to obtain funding for the rail line. This $4.1 million is just for the first year and it is a department that will never go away (i.e. bigger government has just been created and you get to pay for it). This is just the start of the nickel and diming of the taxpayers for this particular project.

It is important to note that these various hidden costs happen in every city in the US that is building a government project. It is magnified in a transportation project simply because mass transit is expensive to build and operate.

From various proposals I have read over the years, there are hundreds of millions in various charges that are never presented in the proposals. This type of charge is one of them as it is not a direct cost associated with the project. The taxpayer ends up footing the bill of course and they have no choice in the matter at this point since the plan is approved and the project is under way.

The public needs to start asking the tough questions when expensive government projects come up. The public needs to automatically assume that the project will be at least 1/3 over the budget that the TA and government officials report and there will be at least a minimum of $100 million more that they will be responsible for paying through their taxes on top of that from related expenses not included in the proposal. Items such as offices, sweetheart development deals and even plain old graft and corruption.

The public needs to wake up to the fact that they are not getting a bargain but are getting their pockets picked by the pro-rail crowd and politicians looking for a legacy. They need to question if they really need such a project and do the research. Don't trust what the supporters tell you as they have an agenda to push the project. If the project is beneficial, go for it but in most cases you'll find that the rail line or other transit project has little to do with public transportation and more to do with politics, Utopian visions and political legacies.

I will be following this Honolulu rail project rather closely and when all is said and done, I predict my numbers listed above will be right on the mark.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Honolulu takes positive step

Honolulu HI - The Honolulu Advertiser reports that Honolulu Councilman Charles Djou has introduced a bill to bar any company that has had any corruption charges from being able to secure work on the recently approved mass transit project for the area.

A wise move. You can call me a skeptic but I've seen enough corruption over the decades, especially when it comes to expensive transit projects, that I question most every project that comes up. Djou's proposed bill would help keep the project on the up and up.

Now don't be fooled however. It won't reduce the cost of building the planned rapid transit line and in fact may actually cost the taxpayers more money. It's hard to say at this point in time but I am positive that it won't reduce costs. There will still be cost over runs on the project as well as unexpected expenditures.

The positive thing will be that the companies getting the work will be clean and without a history of bid rigging and corruption. It is important that the highly polarized project be viewed as being built with reputable companies.

While Djou's bill, if enacted, may be defeated in the courts, it sends a the needed message to the taxpayers that those that have been elected to run Honolulu don't want this project to be plagued by corruption charges.

A Laurel goes to Honolulu Councilman Charles Djou for putting forth the effort to keep this polarizing project on the up and up.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Public transit needs to be based on reality

Detroit MI - An editorial out of the Detroit Free Press states well what is needed all across North America. Transit needs to be based on reality. While looking at the public transportation issues of Detroit, this editorial could easily apply to almost any city.

From a paper that is usually rather Liberal in its views, they took a rather Conservative stance on the public transportation needs of Detroit. Calling for buses rather than expensive rail lines as well as taking a swipe at the union and at the Democrats, this editorial clearly states what needs to be done to improve public transit in the region.

A few things in the editorial stood out to me. One was that the lie of the "heavy ridership that will result if a transit project is built" was exposed, much to the chagrin of the pro-rail crowd. One look at the Detroit People Mover, the futuristic transit project that was to turn Detroit into a world-class city, shows how wrong these projected ridership figures can be. The People Mover should be 75,000 riders a day but in reality it is lucky it hauls 8,000 a day and I'm willing to bet that 8,000 figure has been tweaked to the high side.

Another point that stood out was that the editorial writer worries about government and transit planners being seduced by glamorous rail system. Well it's too late, they have been. There is even a contest going on currently to design the future of transportation in Detroit where they specify it has to be rail oriented. The winners of this contest will have their expensive rail plan pushed at the expense of a far more economical and flexible bus operation.

If public transit is to survive, it must be viewed realistically. It must run efficiently and effectively. Planning needs to be done in the form of considering that people are not going to want to give up their cars. Even glamorous rail systems can't pull people away from their cars.

Currently, planning is done using hopes and dreams of what it could be like in a Utopian society. In other words, gambling taxpayer money that they'll get a royal flush rather than a pair of 2's. This is not creating an effective or efficient operation.

Let's face it, it's a well known and proven fact that public transit is expensive and becoming more expensive every day. Transit systems need to become more effective and efficient if they are to survive. The politicians and so-called transit loving activists need to wake up to reality that rail isn't the answer to the problems. A well run bus system is much more effective and efficient but few want to promote this. They'd rather gamble billions of taxpayer dollars on expensive toys in the hope it will entice people to use it in addition to the development factor that many cities also gamble our money on. Then they cry when fares go up and routes get cut to pay for the toy they wanted.

Yes, public transit needs to be based on reality. The future of it depends on proper planning to create an effective and efficient operation. If things keep going in the direction they are headed, public transit will become a dismal footnote in the annals of time.