MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami-Dade County Transit buses and trains were running Wednesday but without new federal funding. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has suspended the county’s automatic access to a pool of grant money totaling some $182 million dollars. The move to suspend Miami-Dade’s access comes amid concerns about how the transit agency is accounting for and spending the federal money and the cash that is deposited in fare boxes by passengers.
In a statement provided to CBS4 News Wednesday, FTA administrator Peter Rogoff said, “The FTA takes very seriously its role in ensuring that taxpayer funds granted to transit agencies are managed appropriately and are targeted towards services for transit riders, In this case, our oversight and review of the Miami-Dade County Transit system leaves FTA with no choice but to take the critical step of withholding all federal funds until we are confident that the dollars collected from taxpayers and transit riders are appropriately accounted for” and spent.
Rogoff adds, “The restriction on the use of federal taxpayer funds will remain in place until FTA can ensure that Miami-Dade Transit has taken all the necessary steps to fully restore the public’s trust.”
Miami-Dade Transit Director Harpal Kapoor issued a statement saying his agency “is working with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to address financial control issues pointed out in a preliminary review, and MDT is already taking immediate corrective actions.”
Kapoor said that the county was still able to request federal funds “through a manual process” but not able to automatically draw down funds as it was before. Kapoor said that he was confident that once “financial internal controls have been corrected, our reporting systems will be strengthened.”
Some transit passengers said they found the blistering statement from the federal government and suspension of transit funding to be further evidence of mismanagement in Miami-Dade government.
“I think the money’s been going in their pockets,” said an unabashedly cynical Javier Carrion, who had just stepped off a Metrorail train downtown.
Another passenger, Osvaldo Jaramillo, said he shares the federal government’s concern over the county’s accounting of transit funds and fares.
“I’d like to know where it’s going, too.” Jaramillo said. “The transit system right now is very flawed.” Jaramillo complained that busses and trains don’t have convenient connections and often run late.
“This could be the worst public transit system in the country,” Jaramillo said.
Victoria Mallette, a spokesperson for Mayor Carlos Alvarez, said the mayor was “not available” to comment Wednesday.
In 2007, the previous transit director was fired over allegations that Alvarez said included nepotism and mismanagement.
Jeff Mitchell, Vice-President of Transit Workers Union Local 291, said management of the transit system is worse now than in 2007, and called for a full investigation.
“I want to get to the bottom of it. Everybody in Dade County should want to get to the bottom of it,” Mitchell told CBS4 News. “It’s taxpayer’s dollars.”
After business hours Wednesday, County Manager George Burgess emailed a statement to CBS4 News saying the county is still able to obtain federal transit funding on a “reimbursement basis,” and that the on-going accountability issues with the FTC will “have no impact” on transit service or safety.
Burgess’s release did not address the scathing statement issued by FTC administrator Rogoff.