Friday, August 10, 2007

Chastain's LRT plan continues to get more holes

Kansas City MO - Clay Chastain's Light Rail Transit {LRT} plan took a couple of big hits on Thursday but were, as usual, brushed aside by Chastain.

First there was the consulting team which issued its report to the city council and showed that the city just can't afford Chastain's dream system.

Then the city council learned that there were enough valid signatures on a petition to force the city to toss the plan or send it back to the voters.

Chastain of course instantly went on the defensive. He claimed the consultant report was deliberately overstating the building costs so as to shoot his plan down. A bit paranoid? It seems so but Chastain has a long history of being paranoid when things don't go his way. It's always that someone is out to get him.

What needs to be focused on is this paragraph in the news story: "He said the Missouri Department of Transportation should contribute $100 million to operate light rail. According to figures supplied by MoDOT, that would eat up what the state spends on general transit for about 25 years."

In other words, Chastain not only wants to decimate the bus system in Kansas City but he wishes to decimate transit in the entire state of Missouri just so he can build his personal legacy line at taxpayer expense.

Also highlighted in the consultant's report was that many of the things in Chastain's plan had problems and could even violate the law. There has already been many other questionable issues regarding the constitutionality of how he plans on funding it so that didn't surprise me.

What amused me was that he thinks the state will just fork over the money needed to fund all transit systems for the next 25 years to operate his legacy line. He's Clay Chastain so the state is just going to bow down to his royal highness. The bulk of Chastain's plan for funding revolves around such thinking. He thinks Kansas City will automatically go to the front of the funding line with the Feds. He thinks the state will just hand over money because he needs it to run his LRT line with gondola ride.

This is sure to end up in court as Chastain has no qualms about suing to get his legacy line built, even if the people vote it down in the next election. He was all for the people prior to this since they blindly voted for what he wanted but as soon as they learned what was happening and don't want his plan, it's to hell with the people. Sadly, when all is said and done, it will cost the taxpayers plenty but it looks as though Chastain's plan is getting more holes in it by the day and less likely to be built.

Kansas City residents have a chance it seems to officially dump Chastain's legacy line and send the meddler packing back to Virginia. With enough valid petition signatures, there is no reason that a re-vote of the plan can't happen with the next election. Let's hope these people understand what they are voting for this time.

If Kansas City must have a rail line, do it sensibly. Build it for service, not development or prestige. Don't go for the bells and whistles as they don't do anything but drive the price up. While I still think Kansas City can't support a rail line regardless of building price, it might just squeak by if it is done with transportation in mind in an existing high ridership corridor.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Talk about chutzpah

Pittsburgh PA - The former Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) CEO, Paul "Captain Scuttles" Skoutelas, filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer late last week. He charges that PAT has illegally reduced his monthly pension by more than $3,000.

The key issue in the lawsuit revolves around a pension agreement that was not approved by the PAT Board and hence not legally binding. PAT reduced Skoutelas' pension and requested repayment of almost $65,000 in over payments. Skoutelas' attorney argues otherwise and states that a promise was made and must be honored.

The man that literally lived large on the taxpayer's dime and brought a whole new meaning to the term government waste is now experiencing the repercussions of his leadership and he doesn't like it. From day one, he spent money like Fort Knox was part of the operation. I mean, nobody needs an $800 desk clock but he deemed it a necessity when he first arrived along with a desk chair that cost well over $1,000, all on the taxpayer's dime of course. The wasteful spending just skyrocketed from that point on.

A costly move of the administration offices from a building it owned into leased office space in the high rent section of Downtown. Continuing to increase the funding of a proven failure of a marketing campaign. Nickel and diming the operating funds for everything from dinosaur books, greens fees and rented Christmas decorations for the office to hiring but not monitoring the spending of professional lobbying agencies acting on their behalf (i.e. reimbursing the lobbyist blindly). Greatly inflating inventory costs by having to have each bus order as different from the previous order as they could get it and with every option they could get. This is barely even the tip of the iceberg in terms of wasteful spending practices that occurred under the leadership of Skoutelas and directly led to the fiscal crisis PAT finds itself in today.

While PAT has never been a really efficient operation, the decade under Skoutelas was ripe with wasteful spending which set PAT up for fiscal disaster. More new ways to waste money were invented under the Skoutelas administration than occurred under all of the previous administrations combined. Skoutelas jumped the ship before the actual crash so he didn't have to deal with the consequences.

Skoutelas also introduced a controversial pension program under his watch at PAT known as the "Deferred Retirement Option Program" or DROP. The DROP program literally allowed key employees to double dip into the already underfunded management pension plan. He was also allowed to buy pension credit for previous service at PAT as well as his time with Lynx in Orlando FL to increase his overall pension.

Sadly, with the way the courts rule on such matters, PAT will ultimately be out the money and Skoutelas will get his full plunder. The riders and taxpayers will get punished in the end to offset Skoutelas' share of the PAT loot.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to sue your former employer for money when you yourself steered that former employer into a fiscal disaster which has left the public with 15% less service, threats of another 10% and a fare increase on the horizon as well as the loss of employment for many employees.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hannemann: Rail transit is only way

Honolulu HI - With Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann's legacy rail plan being questioned, the Mayor dug in and tried to shoot down any thought of looking at alternatives.

Hannemann ranted, "There is no way we are going to change horses in midstream and now explore a busway as an alternative to light rail." He continued with "It will not be done. I will not allow that to happen."

This outburst only further confirms to me that the transit plan in Honolulu is strictly for the personal legacy of Mayor Hannemann rather than for the good of the residents that must pay for it. The Mayor has always fought any plan that wasn't rail and has long refused to even consider exploring what would work best. Even the routing would be challenged by Mufi if it didn't fit into his vision of how he wanted his legacy line.

While the brief description of the BRT plan leaves me with a lot of questions, BRT was never really properly considered initially. Only rail was. Even the routing is questionable as many questions are still pending as to if Mufi's plan will serve the most residents. Hannemann has pulled strings, called in favors and at times bullied to get his plan going. Even though the rail plan is still in question, Hannemann acts as though it is a done deal.

Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall is unconvinced that Mufi's plan is the best because she doesn't believe all possibilities were given fair consideration during the early planning stages of the project. She is correct, they weren't. Mufi had already decided on rail and that was what he insisted be focused on.

Given that the line will require at least $5 billion dollars in taxpayer money (probably more when all is said and done), all alternatives need to be considered and the best technology as well as route chosen. Hannemann's refusal to consider anything but rail along the route he wants is a warning flag which proclaims that the project is a legacy project and doesn't serve the best interest of the residents.