The case of the senior “ghost riders” continues.
Members of the Luzerne County Transportation Authority met for a board meeting on Tuesday and unanimously passed a $12.1 million operating budget for 2013-14. In a separate development, board members learned senior citizen ridership numbers continue to fall in the wake of controversy over inflated passenger counts.
The number of senior citizens riding LCTA buses was 20,424 in May, authority statistics show, down 47,641 people from 68,065 senior riders in May 2012. Total ridership decreased from 150,741 to 102,460 over the same period, down 48,281 people overall.
Executive Director Stanley Strelish said last month an internal investigation revealed some bus drivers were improperly double-counting senior citizen passengers and inflating passenger counts. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 164 President Paul Jason responded that it is LCTA’s job to properly train its drivers, and that the agency bears any responsibility “for any inappropriate training.”
LCTA bus fare boxes tally up most riders when they present cash, a pass or transfer. Seniors, however, are counted manually by drivers who press a button to record when a senior citizen boards a bus.
Strelish consistently has rejected allegations that he ordered drivers to boost senior numbers to increase state funding.
Senior citizen ridership numbers nosedived by about 50 percent soon after the allegations were made. The state Department of Transportation and state Office of Inspector General launched investigations after the allegations and ridership numbers were publicized in area newspapers.
Strelish told reporters on Tuesday that almost all drivers have now received training in the proper procedures, and that he has not heard anything from PennDOT or the Inspector General in response to their investigations. He also said he didn’t believe the agency could face a loss of state aid over the case, due to a “hold harmless” provision in state law that ensures transit systems never receive less funding than in a prior year.
In fact, LCTA received about $250,000 more in state aid this year, Strelish said of the newly passed budget.
Tuesday’s LCTA meeting came in the midst of heated battles in Harrisburg about the long-term future of transportation funding in Pennsylvania. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Dick Hess, R-Bedford, on Tuesday canceled a meeting on a $2.5 billion transportation bill because a proposed amendment wasn’t completed, The Associated Press reported.