‘Discrepancies’ in documentation stall senior levy busing payment

WARREN — The Trumbull County Senior Levy Services administrator is holding onto a check for the company that contracts with the Trumbull County Transit Board to provide discounted rides throughout the county because of “discrepancies” with the company’s documentation of senior rides earlier this year.

Diane M. Siskowic-Jurkovic, the administrator overseeing the senior levy funds, said only about 20 percent of the documentation submitted by contractor Community Bus Services that’s supposed to detail how many rides were provided to seniors between April to June had been completed properly.

Also, she said the company was counting personal care assistants as seniors and marking them the same age as the senior, though they shouldn’t be counted because the assistants are not paying for rides and are likely not seniors.

Siskowic-Jurkovic said she has Community Bus Services’ check ready, but she is waiting for a response to her report before she sends it. Community Bus Service, or CBS, is paid $50,000 per month to provide the transportation service.

Terry Thomas, Community Busing Service president, said his people have looked into the matter, and he believes the Federal Transit Authority permits the company to list assistants to seniors as a senior rider in the tally.

Thomas said he has responded to Siskowic-Jurkovic’s requests for more information and clarification by delivering his response to members of the transit board, since the company reports directly to that board, not to the senior levy advisory committee. He called the findings by Siskowic-Jurkovic “immaterial,” and said the two have worked out a new way to document how many seniors are riding by documenting what he or she paid, which is $1.50 or $2, depending on where the riders live, which is lower than what others pay.

Siskowic-Jurkovic spent five days in the offices of the bus service going through their files and verifying how many rides go to seniors. The advisory committee distributes $600,000 per year to the transit board to cover senior rides

The advisory committee requested 20,000 verified rides be provided to seniors in exchange for the payment, but it appears the service will miss the mark by a couple of thousand rides.

“I don’t understand that because we did 26,000 last year, and we haven’t turned down a single trip in 2017,” Thomas said.

But Siskowic-Jurkovic said she hears complaints frequently that seniors call to book a trip and are denied.

Thomas said he has heard that those types of complaints exist, but they are often left anonymously and months after some type of incident.

“We try to solve complaints aggressively, but how do we do that for an anonymous complaint for something that happened three months ago?” Thomas said.

Siskowic-Jurkovic said seniors need a ride service that is flexible and cost effective, and subsidizing $60 one-way trips when there is only one or two people in a vehicle and an inability to dispatch on-demand trips immediately, might not be the best way for seniors to get around.

“In our county we are failing at providing a dispatching service that can find a trip for as cheap as possible, monitoring those trips and then reimbursing to subsidize the cost for the seniors. There have to be cheaper options out there,” Siskowic-Jurkovic said.

Thomas said if more people used the service, the cost of the trips would go down. He said he wants to work on an information campaign to increase ridership. Cancellations and no-shows, which Siskowic-Jurkovic said don’t count in her ride totals, “clog up” the system, making it less flexible and adversely affecting their numbers, Thomas said.