Dead people, it has long been rumored, once voted in Luzerne County’s elections, so perhaps it should come as no surprise if today they ride the county’s buses.
“Ghost riders,” as they’re called, cannot be seen, but they apparently have been counted. And their alleged hauntings of the Luzerne County Transportation Authority’s routes have done what their insidious counterparts at the ballot box did in bygone years: undermined a system and badly damaged public trust.
As many as 315,000 to 615,00 or more “ghost riders” per year boarded the LCTA’s vehicles between 2005 and 2013, according to a consultants’ review performed for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
The department last week sent a letter to the LCTA, indicating the authority had routinely inflated its senior citizen ridership numbers. Consequently, PennDOT wants a multimillion-dollar reimbursement for contributions it made to the area’s public transit system for its operations and capital improvements. The payback, plus a fine, totals about $3.2 million.
The transportation department intends to withhold those funds, though the LCTA can appeal.
For its part, the LCTA’s leadership has yet to provide a satisfactory explanation.
Executive Director Stanley Strelish previously pinpointed the trouble on some bus drivers who miscounted, saying they mistakenly had tallied seniors both as they entered and exited the bus. Certain drivers, meanwhile, reportedly blamed Strelish, saying he had instructed bus drivers to pad the numbers. The director disputes that accusation.
In any case, things at the LCTA certainly aren’t adding up — at least, not adding up correctly.
A grand jury supposedly has already heard testimony from some bus drivers. The Luzerne County Council, whose members appoint the LCTA’s nine governing board members, might be next to investigate.
Area residents, meanwhile, are left to wonder if yet another county-affiliated operation suffers from a shortage of common sense, ethics or both.
If wrongdoing occurred, will the guilty party or parties be held accountable? Will the LCTA’s troubles ultimately curtail the area’s transportation service for people who depend on it to reach the places they work, retail outlets or doctors’ offices? How might this incident hurt the case for a consolidation of mass transit operations in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties? Those and related questions need to be adequately answered.
The public rightly expects a full accounting of the “ghost rider” situation — a quaint name for what seemingly amounts to fraud.