FTA releases report from visit to Trumbull Transit

WARREN — The Federal Transit Administration wants to see Trumbull County’s public transit system increase the passengers it carries per hour, pay its contractor in a more timely manner and provide more oversight functions.

The FTA hired a contractor to conduct a site visit in November with the Trumbull County Transit Board and its contractor Community Bus Services to see how the board was complying with recommendations made after a review in 2016. In that report, there were 22 deficiencies in seven areas, and no deficiencies in 10 other areas.

A report issued this month states the board and CBS had mostly corrected several issues, including implementing a program that ensures the contractor is using a certain percentage of minority-owned businesses as subcontractors. But, there are other issues that haven’t been addressed.

CBS has to wait months, even up to a year, to get paid for the services it provides as the board waits for grant money to come in from the state and federal governments.

Mark Hess, transit administrator, said without money upfront, it is difficult to pay CBS on time. When Niles ran the system, the city fronted the money to pay the contractor until the grant money came through, but Trumbull County commissioners have not been willing to spend general fund money on the system.

Terry Thomas, owner of CBS, said he understands the wait, and he doesn’t see a clear solution, except expanding services to add more cushion to the system’s finances. The FTA wants to see invoices paid within 30 days.

Hess said he would discuss options with the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, the local metropolitan planning organization that calculates with the three systems in the region how the FTA’s money is distributed.

The report found passengers per hour on the system fell from 1.65 in 2011 to a low of 1.35 in 2016.

“Other counties with on-demand transportation reflected an average passenger per hour in 2014 of 1.90 with a range of 1.25 to 2.79. CBS explained that TCTB is in the lower range due to its demand base containing primarily older adult / dialysis and special education students — the demand bases that provide local match — which require more service,” the report states.

Thomas said he is reviewing ways to increase rides per hour and restructuring driver schedules to make operations more efficient.

The board should be receiving performance reports on a monthly basis, but only gets them from CBS sporadically and without enough time to review them before meetings, the report states. And the contract between the board and CBS should require the contractor to report directly to the transit administrator, instead of the board.

In addition, some board members reported they have not seen a copy of the contract with CBS, the report states.

“We find it impossible to expect the board to hold CBS accountable without being informed about the contract’s terms and conditions,” the report states.

Robert Faulkner, chairman of the transit board, said there was nothing in the report the board wasn’t already aware of, and is working to implement the FTA’s requirements.

“We are working on things, we are getting better and I feel good about where we are,” Faulkner said.

Hess said he will write an action plan for the board to implement all of the points.

“There is nothing in this report that is earth shattering. There are issues that need to be addressed. It is a matter of getting a system in place and then assigning the people to do it,” Hess said.

The report also found the system’s complaint process needs to be more robust. It states the board should review each complaint and its resolution, and require the contractor to provide more details about how the complaints were resolved.

“We’ve got a lot to follow up on, but I am thrilled with this report. I learned something new in each section, and that is a gift,” Thomas said.

The board should have better contingency plans for staff retirements and unexpected departures, the report found. The board is still searching for a replacement for Hess, who retired last year, but is staying on as a contractor until the board finds his successor.