The Federal Transit Administration is expected to release its triennial review of Coast RTA later this month that will show inadequate financial and maintenance planning, and retaining useless buses so long, Coast may have to pay the feds back part of its contribution to buy the buses.
Of the 17 areas the FTA examines every three years, it found Coast was compliant in six areas and had 11 deficiencies.
The triennial review is the FTA’s assessment of Coast RTA’s compliance with federal requirements, determined by examining a sample of grant management and program implementation practices.
The six compliance categories were Title VI, public comment on fare increase and major service reductions, half fare, school bus, security and drug-free workplace/drug and alcohol program.
The deficiencies ranged from not having an existing financial plan or vehicle maintenance plan to failing to submit required reports on time and having three buses sit unused for long periods of time.
Julie Norton-Dew, interim general manager at Coast, said the bus issue was unforeseeable.
“Coast RTA did not recapture enough insurance to cover the large repair cost,” Norton-Dew said. “Therefore, repairing such an old vehicle is analyzed differently. ... This has been an ongoing maintenance issue and ultimately Coast RTA has to make a management decision to solve the problem.”
Bernie Silverman, chairman of the board of directors for Coast, said the issues identified in the triennial review are fixable and are, in some cases, things the board and its staff already knew, like an aging bus fleet.
“The main thing was there were some very good points, like procurement was good ... with no findings,” Silverman said. “There were some paperwork things, like some were not filed on time. The other thing they said is our maintenance. We have old buses, which we knew.”
A draft of the report states deficiencies were found with the FTA requirements for maintenance. The existing maintenance plan, the report stated, is “generic. ... The plan and accompanying checklists are not tailored to the individual types of vehicles.”
Felicia Beaty, chief operating officer at Coast, was recently put in charge of overseeing the maintenance department, and said her first order of business was to meet with the mechanics at Coast.
Coast has three classifications of mechanics ranging from the experienced Class A mechanic, who can re-build transmissions, to Class C mechanics who do basic maintenance. She said it has gotten to the point where Class C mechanics are needed to do Class A mechanic work.
Top that with three buses that have been sitting unused because of repairs that need to be made, and Beaty said it’s a constant game of catch up.
“The problem is we can’t get the mechanics to fix the buses because they’re too busy every day running interference because we have break downs they need to tend to all day long,” Beaty said.
This problem has reached a level where two buses have been out of service for significant amounts of time and a third that has been out for more than six months. One bus was removed from service due to fire before the end of its useful life. FTA funds were used to buy the bus, so Coast will be on the hook to reimburse the FTA if it is not repaired and put back on the road.
“We’ve got to do a much better job of preventative maintenance,” Beaty said. “We’ve got to be proactive instead of reactive. We’ve been reactive for several years. ... A lot of our service calls are minor issues that could have been caught the night before if we performed the proper ... inspections.”
As for not having a financial plan, Silverman said Coast hired a firm in 2013 for about $10,000 to derive a financial plan. The result of that consultation simply showed Coast RTA needed to increase its budget from $5 million annually to nearly $20 million. He said it wasn’t a plan the board could back.
“It called for a very very large increase in funding,” Silverman said. “It called for a lot of van pools. Now van pools are not a bad idea, but we don’t have the money for it. ... That’s the plan [the FTA] looked at and I think they realized it was not a realistic plan.”
Silverman said the staff has already been working diligently to correct the issues from the report, which was made public early by him and the executive staff. He said as Coast looks for a new general manager, it’s imperative to him to make sure Coast is transparent with the public. Coast RTA is looking for a GM to replace Myers Rollins, who was fired in April.
In all, Silverman was pleased with what needed to be done.
“It’s a snapshot,” Silverman said. “I think it worked out OK.”