UPDATE, noon Nov. 9: Palm Tran says 368 people used the free Palm Tran rides to the polls on Tuesday.
Palm Tran, Palm Beach County’s public transportation system, says it will offer free rides Tuesday for people to vote.
You must present a valid voter information card when boarding.
The offer is valid for all 35 routes system-wide throughout Palm Beach County for the entire day, but isn’t valid for use on Palm Tran Connection, which provides call-ahead bus service for the elderly, disabled and ill.
Palm Tran Connection, Palm Beach County’s call-ahead bus service for the elderly, disabled and ill, has a new director.
Chad Hockman, whose official title will be Senior Manager of Paratransit, starts Thursday. He’ll be formally introduced at Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the Palm Tran Service Board, the agency’s advisory group.
Hockman will oversee a staff of 75 and a $30 million budget, Palm Tran Executive Director Clinton B. Forbes said Wednesday in a release.
The Ohio State University graduate worked for the college, then spent 13 years at a private paratransit provider that worked in six Midwestern and southern States.
Hockman will earn $107,000. His predecessor, Ron Jones, had earned $115,000.
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.
The Palm Beach County Commission once again will tackle the issue of how the app-based ride service and similar ones are regulated, and whether they are getting an unfair advantage over traditional taxis and limos.
The biggest aspect of the Uber package commissioners will consider: both Uber-style outfits and taxis would be responsible to either conduct their own background checks or hire the county to do the more comprehensive and costly fingerprint-based “Level II” checks for them. That, and what insurance would be required of drivers in both endeavors, have been sticking points in the debate for going on two years.
The commission might also talk some more about last week’s charge by the county’s inspector general that officials of the Palm Tran Connection cooked their books to improve the on-time record for the bus service for the disabled, elderly and ill.
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?”