The 4th District Court of Appeal has upheld a judge’s tossing of a suit by a Palm Tran passenger saying he fell when the bus driver slammed on his brakes.
Altimon Palmer, in a suit filed Nov. 3, 2014, alleged that on the day before Christmas in 2013, he was boarding Palm Tran bus 716, heading down Congress Avenue in West Palm Beach, when the driver braked hard and Palmer fell.
In a memo Thursday to county commissioners, County Attorney Denise Nieman said county lawyers argued the Palm Tran bus was cut off and “there could be no negligence on the part of the bus driver under those circumstances.” She said lawyers for Palmer “argued that the issue of negligence should be left to a jury.”
On March 9, 2016, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo granted the county’s motion to dismiss, saying “there are no genuine issues of fact.” Palmer’s lawyers appealed, and on Wednesday, the appeals court upheld the dismissal without comment, according to documents.
Attorney Nicholas Russo, whose West Palm Beach firm represented Palmer, in both the original case and the appeal, said Friday he’ll formally ask the appeals court for a rehearing.
“We think the case law out there is pretty clear that the ruling by the trial court should have been overruled,” Russo said.
Turned off by the idea of touching anything on a public bus?
Palm Tran is installing hand sanitizers on all of its 158 vehicles.
The battery-operated devices will cost the county bus system around $4,130, which will come out of money in its maintenance budget.
The wall-mounted units will be installed starting next week and all should be up by the end of February, maintenance manager Jack Kavaliunas said at Thursday’s meeting of the Palm Tran Service Board, an advisory panel.
Each unit, with refill and mount, costs about $26. They’ll be bought through the county’s purchasing warehouse.
Smith has 25 years in the transit business. He started as a dispatcher for the Greyhound bus line and for seven years has been general manager and CEO at the Durham, N.C., transit system. He will oversee more than 530 bus drivers, maintenance workers and training and safety staff, and a nearly $80 million budget, and will report to Forbes.
Forbes had announced Oct. 11 that he was appointing Keith Clinkscale manager of a newly-created office of performance management, starting Oct. 17. Clinkscale will produce performance reports. Clinkscale joined Palm Tran in February 2015 as a paratransit dispatcher, arranging pickups for ill, elderly and disabled passengers.
Palm Tran riders will have more opportunities to take a load off while waiting for the bus. The county bus agency plans to install 24 new bus stop seats at high-ridership locations in places where right-of-way problems prevent them from having a shelter or bench. The 24 stops selected for the seats account for 23,000 or more riders per month.
The 2-seat assembly, by the Simme-Seat company, attaches directly to a bus stop pole. The make it easier for drives to see waiting riders and provide a safer option for riders than sitting on the curb.
The $13,722 for the seats came from a federal grant.
County Commissioner Priscilla A. Taylor and Palm Tran managers will show off one of the new seats at 10:30 a.m. Monday at a stop at the Presidente Supermarket at Linton Square Plaza, at 1565 S. Congress Ave. in Delray Beach.
The head of Palm Tran has demoted the Palm Tran Connection’s director, who admitted to investigators that his agency manipulated software to boost on-time stats, and has accepted the resignation of the man who once ran all of Palm Tran.
The 103-page March 31 report outlined a systematic doctoring of software. It says managers altered, or directed dispatchers to alter, between 21,000 and 46,000 reports.
Forbes wrote in a memo to county leadership, released along with the report late Thursday, that while “some of the conclusions varied” from the Inspector General, it was “complementary to their investigation and uncovered several management issues which resulted in significant problems” at the Connection, which provides call-ahead bus service for the elderly, disabled and ill.
Forbes said he’ll hire a consultant to run the Connection as interim, work on the recommendations of both reports, and help search for a new director.
He also said he’s created an office of Performance Management at Palm Tran “to ensure the integrity and accuracy” of the agency’s data. He also said he’s brought the Connection’s operations directly under Palm Tran and has created a new Chief Operating Officer position from the former Deputy Director of Fixed Route, the post to which Cohen was demoted.
An independent consultant hired by Palm Tran has “substantiated” a Palm Beach County Inspector General report detailing manipulation of on-time performance of Palm Tran Connection,, Inspector General John A. Carey told his agency’s executive committee Thursday at its semi-annual meeting.
Carey’s 103-page March 31 report outlined what it called a systematic doctoring of software at the Palm Tran subsidiary that provides call-ahead bus service for the elderly, disabled and ill. It says managers altered, or directed dispatchers to alter, between 21,000 and 46,000 reports.
Carey told The Palm Beach Post after Thursday’s meeting that he met recently with Rishel and the consultant “was not completed with his work but my discussions with him seemed to substantiate the information that we found.”
But Forbes said late Thursday that he spoke with Rishel, who told him that he has not spoken to Carey.
The report managers altered, or directed dispatchers to alter, between 21,000 and 46,000 reports of when a rider was picked up or dropped off late in the past 14 months, making them “inaccurate and inflated” and allowing the agency to reach a goal of a 95 percent on-time record.
“We have concerns regarding this, and I talked about it at length on this commission for the last four or five years,” Vana told colleagues Tuesday. “I hope that now we will have some action taken and we will get to the bottom of what happened.”
Vana has been outspoken about problems with the Connection, a problem-plagued subsidiary of Palm Tran that provides call-ahead bus service for the elderly, disabled and ill.
Palm Tran Connection signed contracts in January 2015 with three companies for a combined $190 million to provide the service after reaching a settlement with its old vendor to end its contract. For years, the county had heard complaints of late service, rude drivers and unclean buses as Metro Mobility Management Group racked up $2.5 million in fines.
The on-time standard is used by Palm Tran executives in reports to both customers and the Palm Beach County Commission, and managers know a performance record below 95 percent could result in contractors being dumped and managers being penalized. A poor on-time performance cost Chuck Cohen, Palm Tran executive director for nearly a decade, a demotion in January 2014, and later led to a major overhaul of the Connection.
Palm Tran Connection managers altered, or directed dispatchers to alter, between 21,000 and 46,000 reports, making them “inaccurate and inflated” and allowing the agency to reach a goal of a 95 percent on-time record in the past 14 months, the Palm Beach County Inspector General said Thursday.
“No one admitted, ‘we are doing this in order to meet the 95 percent goal,’” Inspector General John Carey said Thursday. But, he said, “that is a logical conclusion that people could bring.”
Clinton Forbes, who came on as Palm Tran director in November, told The Palm Beach Post Thursday he plans to hire an outside entity to conduct an investigation for him.
“If we find that any employee manipulated the numbers, or cooked the books, there will be severe administrative action,” Forbes said.
Proper time records could have led to penalties to contractors of as much as $1.26 million, the 100-plus page report by Carey’s office said. It did find more than 100 cases where contractors were penalized $60 per occurrence, but Carey said, “We believe there were obviously a lot more occasions.”
Forbes said the $1.26 million estimate is wrong because Palm Tran Connection doesn’t penalize for tardiness, only for failed pickups.
The report said management of the county bus service for the elderly and disabled “disagreed with our finding” but did concur with the Inspector General’s nine recommendations. They include “take appropriate personnel action.” Forbes said Thursday that Ron Jones remains the Palm Tran Connection director.
The report says Jones admitted ordering computer audit programs to be turned off, allowing people to go back and change previous reporting without any audit trail. The summary said Jones told investigators in September that he’d stopped, but that a Connection staffer came forward in February to say that the misdirection was continuing.
Forbes told The Post, and the ageny said in remarks included in the Inspector General’s report, Palm Tran said there are several reasons that on-time performances are changed after the fact.
But, Carey said Thursday, “why was it that when we brought it to their attention, it went down below that 95 percent, and it’s never been there again?”