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Broward bus ridership plummets as costs rise, authorities probe alleged scheme to hide buses

A Broward County Transit bus at the new Northeast Transit Center at North Dixie Highway and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Pompano Beach
A Broward County Transit bus at the new Northeast Transit Center at North Dixie Highway and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Pompano Beach

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

News that authorities are scrutinizing allegations of a scheme to hide buses from federal auditors comes at a challenging time for Broward County Transit.

For the fifth year in a row, Broward bus ridership fell significantly in 2018. Annual ridership is now less than 29 million, down from nearly 39 million in 2014.

Declining transit ridership is a nationwide trend, with Florida experiencing the most dramatic decreases during that period, according to a February report prepared for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) by the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research. And in Florida, the transit operator with the biggest percentage decrease is Broward, followed closely by its neighbors to the south and north.

“It is disheartening that the southeastern area in Florida comprised of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties suffered the greatest ridership losses despite this area having the densest settlement pattern, the most substantial transit level of service, and rapid population growth,” says the report.

Yet even as the number of Broward bus riders has plunged, the cost to operate Broward County Transit’s (BCT) fleet of more than 470 fixed route and demand response buses – like the paratransit TOPS program – has continued to rise. In 2013, BCT reported to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that its annual operating expenses were $119.9 million. By 2017, the latest year for which numbers are available, BCT’s operating expenses had jumped 16 percent to $139.2 million, according to FTA records.

Most of the increase went to pay for higher salaries, wages and benefits, which jumped 23 percent to $87.2 million in 2017. Total BCT operating expenses from 2013-2017: $638.9 million.

At the same time, fare revenue covered a decreasing share of BCT’s operating funds (29 percent to 24 percent), with Broward taxpayers’ annual subsidy for the county bus system rising from $68 million to $80 million, FTA records show.

Why the decline?

Why the large ridership decline?

The FDOT study titled Understanding Ridership Trends in Transit, co-authored by USF Professor Steven Polzin and research associate Jodi Godfrey, examines the “nature of changes in travel behavior.” It begins with the unnerving observation that “both the magnitude and pervasiveness of the declines in transit ridership have made it increasingly apparent that this ridership downturn is unlike many other ridership fluctuations.”

Steven Polzin, Ph.D., University of South Florida

Changes in ridership in Florida appear to be the result of travelers having less need to rely on public transit due to ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, telecommuting, e-commerce and, most significantly, increasing auto ownership and availability, Polzin said in an interview last week.

“Transit hasn’t gotten worse, but other options have gotten better,” Polzin said. He said transit operators remain critical to their communities, but need to “become more competitive” by improving reliability, accessibility, equity and other measures of the quality of service.

The competitive challenge to Broward County Transit to hold onto the 95,235 passengers it says it carries daily is considerable, given its low reputation for service. Here’s a sampling of recent comments on Facebook, where BCT rates just 2.1 out of 5 based on the opinion of 200 people. Drivers are “rude.” Buses “don’t show or show up late.” Routes get “skipped.” The BCT App “is supposed to run on real time but it does not.” Customer service “could care less.”

“In the past 2 years the services has truely (sic) gotten bad and unreliable,” Pompano Beach resident Joseph Lowe wrote last month.

Riders complain, too, about conditions aboard BCT buses. “Roach infested and dirty.”  “Allow people to smoke anything including pot.” “Filthy.”

 “It is disgusting and it is a disgrace,” wrote James O’Connor of Dania Beach.

‘Lack of funding’

Broward County Transportation Director Chris Walton would not be interviewed for this article. He did, however, release a statement saying, “BCT’s services have fallen behind after years of lack of funding.” Walton did not elaborate as to how a system which spent a reported $638.9 million on operating expenses from 2013-2017, and another $151.7 million on new buses and other capital projects, lacked for funds.

Without addressing complaints about the reliability and cleanliness of BCT’s bus fleet, Walton acknowledged the need to remain competitive by addressing “our service quality” and by implementing “continuous rider-based improvements.”

Broward Transportation Director Chris Walton

“Currently, we are working to install Wi-Fi on our entire bus fleet. Through a partnership with Broward County Libraries, passengers can download free music and soon they will be able to download e-books while they ride,” Walton said. He added that BCT will soon be analyzing its “entire route structure, ridership patterns, origins and destinations, and hours of service” and will implement a 10 percent increase in service later this year.

“These increases will restore services that were eliminated due to lack of funds…shorten the intervals between buses and extend the span of service hours on selected routes. An additional 10 percent service increase is planned for 2020,” Walton wrote.

According to the FDOT study, the competitive challenge to transit “is complicated by the fact that declining ridership creates financial pressures for agencies and undermines the productivity and efficiency of public transportation…This undermines both the justification for services as well as the political and public support for them.”

Hiding buses?

Financial pressures at BCT may also play a part as Broward auditors and investigators from the county’s office of professional standards look into an anonymous but unusual allegation that a pair of Broward transit employees who were fired in February for payroll fraud were involved in a scheme last June to help county transit officials hide buses from auditors of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The allegation was made on a federal anti-fraud hotline and sent to Broward’s inspector general, who declined to investigate and instead referred the matter to professional standards.

“The Broward Office of the Inspector General [OIG] received an anonymous tip alleging misconduct within Broward County Transit, to include bus operators being paid overtime in June 2018 to drive buses to Fleet Services on Blount Road in order to hide the buses from auditors from the United States Department of Transportation,” Deputy Inspector General Michael Mee wrote in a Feb. 19 letter.

A motive for the alleged scheme was not provided. Broward Transportation chief Walton has refused to answer questions about the bus hiding allegation.

On Nov. 6, Broward voters approved a one-cent increase in the sales tax, to seven percent, that is expected to raise billions over the next 30 years to reduce traffic congestion and “increase mobility and address transportation challenges,” including an expansion of bus service despite the steep decline in ridership and possibly the addition of light rail service down Broward Boulevard. Exactly how that money is to be spent, however, is not known.

Meanwhile, the good news about falling ridership is that it may be stabilizing, according to Professor Polzin.

“While the decline continued throughout 2018, there is some evidence we have bottomed out, or some locations have bottomed out,” Polzin said.

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Latest comments

  • It’s Broward and most counties with large transit systems. But so profitable to contractors and the electeds who get their donations

  • I flew into MIA last month at 10pm and my plane was late so I missed the last TriRail north. So I caught the Dade 150x to th beach and took the 120x north to Aventura but missed the last BCT north to Ft Lauderdale. We need later service. Uber was great.

  • Another “No Comment” moment from Chris Walton. Why bother asking him about important issues. He’s either unaware, not advised, above dealing with problems he considers beneath his level or just blames unspecified staff under his leadership. Hey but don’t worry, there will be more wifi for music & book reading while you sit amongst the dirt & filth on a late running bus.
    Hey commissioners! Are you proud of the product you are offering your citizens?
    Just keep pouring taxpayer dollars into transit and eventually you’ll have the same product at a higher cost.
    Maybe it’s not what’s not being done but rather who is not getting it done.
    Hi Ho Silver, Away!

  • And this is the organization that just said we need a penny sales tax increase???

  • FDOT builds these Bus lots …how do they figure in?

  • Why would they increase device? The current busses ride empty or half empty.. I do not believe the actual counts either.None if it adds up.

  • Are the senior officials at BCT and FDOT salaries and benefit packages available to the public ?
    Can the public request auditing to see exactly where all the money goes… line item by line item?
    AG needs to investigate w/forensic accounting results. The taxpayers demand to know.

  • Buses are antiquated form of transportation take an Uber faster cheaper less wait times!!

  • WHERE IS THE OVERSIGHT?

  • WHERE IS THE OVERSIGHT ?

  • Do any one is trying to check why or whn all of this startes…… Let me be clear.. Once Mr Walton accepted the bus”upgrades” from ISR company. This company promises to Mr Walton nevare became yo be truth. ISR is “managing” the fleet, the audio and visual notifications on the vehicles, the real time data provided back to the operating centre and much more. Now guess what who is the provoder of BCT movile app and web transit page……. YES. ISR again… Oo sory another company calles BusPas. With the aame owner and the developer like the rest og this bullshit.
    Soo is any one else can see the interconnected thinks or is only me and my frog eyeballs.

  • Here we go again more bad news for the management at BCT when will the Broward County Commission step in and clean house starting at the top??? clearly they should consider privatizing upped management maybe they will wait until the Feds come in and freeze their money!!!

  • I personally had to stop taking the city’s buses they are never on time and had to change buses to get to work ? not to mention the filthy inside and other peoples eating food in the morning probably were the bugs and roaches are coming from ?

  • My girlfriend and I are from the New York areas and are familiar with on time buses and peak hours service this system needs a complete overhaul and probably could start out by not breaking down and a good cleaning

  • Show me the money!
    Show me your plans for improvement!
    Show me where bus #1830 is?
    Show me the oversight!
    Show me all the purchase requests for parts that are not receiving purchase orders!
    Show me someone/anyone who is responsible enough to get the job done!
    Show all of us some new management!!!

  • The taxpayers probably should demand the replacement of the current people’s in the management they’re clearly have old ideas with all “fixed routes” ??to many bus changes to get anywhere not to mention all the other transportation options out there today

  • Zees, how you say, BEE CEE TEE, has many employees, yes?

    Maybee zum one knows where eez the number bus 1830? Maybee, oui. Maybee, non.

    Ahh! Maybee once again zee pink panther has taken it?

    Duz anybodee know? Hallo. Hallo.

    Bus 1830 where are you?

  • I had my college friends in town and took the bus downtown because there was 7 of us bad idea bus broke down and we waited over an hour for repairs by a guy in a white truck? Driver claimed it happens a lot so never again

  • I ride bus back and forth from my work almost everyday service is ok some drivers are very nice ???? unfortunately I see other riders getting on and like never pay the fares ? Driver said nothing he can do about it ? Makes me upset cus I gotta Pay !!!

  • Not sure how or who makes up the schedules and time points but they clearly haven’t ridden the buses, they also could use more feeder buses to the central terminals like bigger cities use

  • Five years in a row of declining ridership and Broward has no answers to get their revenues back ? Sounds like someone needs to go ? this is the tip of the iceberg as the private sector has driverless vehicles being tested and will surely take additional riders and monetary resources away from Broward Transit.
    Maybe Broward was right to keep Uber out ? Or regulate ?

  • So the riderships are down and the operating costs are up then they ask for more money with a penny sales tax to cover the shortage ?? Can’t wait for the next County Commission meeting ????

  • If u take BCT be prepared to waste a day.that is if a bus turns up at all.How is it possible for all the break downs in Broward? Call the transit number about why a bus doesn’t show and it’s always a breakdown…. Why does it take 2.5hours to go from pompano to Broward and University? Not to mention paying $5.00 then watching bum after bum getting free rides….a huge disgrace.and upper management can’t figure out why ridership is tanking,more stupid people in charge

  • BCT is like a failing sports franchise. A really terribly poor excuse of a sports franchise.
    Eventually if the commissioners wake up (do not hold your breath) they will realize that you can’t fire all the players so it’s time to get rid of the management!

  • I think that until the commissioners and other public officials RIDE THE BUSES nothing will change!

  • Is it true that BCT took a perfectly good, brand new bus (1830), out of its service to the public in order to send it to California to have the air conditioning system ripped out so management could attempt an experiment to install an extremely expensive system?
    Must be nice to have taxpayer money pay for a specific bus design and then change it on a whim!
    They ought to do the same with management!!!

  • It’s actually humorous to watch Broward Transit upper management powerless as the private sector in rail formally Brightline was bought by Sir Richard Brandson of Virgin and with the new 5G release on the horizon here comes driverless transportation run by Saudi Arabia’s stake in privately run Uber, Oh well there goes the rest of the paying bus riding customers!!!

  • Hey Jack! You seem like a well informed person.
    Would you happen to know where bus 1830 is?
    I heard a rumor it is in California having “tax payer paid for” air conditioning system ripped out to have a “management wants” air conditioning system installed.
    Do you know anything about this?
    I spent a few hours looking for this bus in the yard but couldn’t find it.
    There must be enough buses that this one isn’t missed.
    Bus 1830 where are you? Come out, come out, wherever you are!
    A good reporter could make a career out of reporting BCT happenings!

  • o come on, what’s one more dirty deal, if anyone was really paying attention they would go down the rabbit hole of why their maintenance manager, o excuse me the name was changed to lower the standards. maintenance director would remove a proven product to install a product with a very high failure rate.

  • Yo “A Dog”; The reason BCT removes a proven product and replaces it with a product that has a very high failure rate is so the product can match the management equally.

    Yo “A Dog”; you didn’t happen to see bus 1830 anywhere have you?

  • Me and my friends are all out on summer vacation and honestly we always used Broward Transit buses to get to malls , beach or just hang out but we have so many other options we don’t have to ride on smelly buses anymore and actually like the new Bird Scooters that we can go anywhere with out time points and fixed routes #DOWNWITHBUSES👎

  • I heard the Broward County new Fleet Manager spent 1/4 a million dollars to paint the floors of a repair shop that did not need painting, that’s $250k-tax dollars!!I think it was the same facility where they were hiding buses. Maybe someone should look into the spending?

  • Hey there Omar, wasting money on painting floors sounds just about right for a division that’s under the same character that BCT is under.

    Is that what they mean by “keeping it in the family” ?

    Did they move the buses or just paint under them?

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