KINGSTON — Senior citizen bus ridership nosedived again — by 50 percent this February compared to February 2012 — and the Office of Inspector General has been looking into the continuing anomaly.
At their regular meeting on Tuesday, Luzerne County Transportation Authority board members learned that senior ridership dropped from 52,879 last February to 26,296 last month. Overall bus ridership dropped 24 percent — from 137,872 to 105,157, Executive Director Stanley Strelish told the board.
Senior ridership numbers became an issue last July after LCTA board member Patrick Conway informed County Councilman Edward Brominski that some former board members and bus drivers told him Strelish ordered them to pad senior ridership numbers by hitting a counter button extra times to up state reimbursement.
Strelish repeatedly and vehemently has denied the allegations, which were brought to the attention of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. PennDOT has found no wrongdoing, but an investigation continues.
Strelish confirmed after the meeting that an investigator with the state Office of Inspector General had visited the authority this month and interviewed him and some others.
Conway said after the meeting that Ryan King, special investigator with the state Office of Inspector General, has contacted drivers, board members and past board members.
“Everyone is telling him they were instructed to push the senior button,” Conway said he was told by drivers when he ran into them socially, adding that he met with the investigator for an hour and a half.
The most recent ridership figures were discussed briefly during the work session that preceded the meeting after board member Sid Halsor questioned them.
Board members are given a breakdown of 13 consecutive months of ridership data at each meeting. Halsor asked if there were “any systematic changes from month to month,” noting that ridership was highest in August.
Board member Bob Chepalonis said there was more bad weather in February 2012 than last month, noting an early spring and 70-degree days last March. He also said there were more bus service days last February.
February 2012 had 25 service days, with 21 of them being weekdays; February 2013 had 24 service days with 19 of them being weekdays. Weekdays usually are busier for ridership.
Halsor asked if future ridership reports could show breakdowns for several prior years for the month in focus “to get a better sense of how things change year-to-year.”
In other business:
• Strelish said the company supplying the authority with an automated people counter as part of an Intelligent Transportation System upgrade promised that the counter will be delivered by the week of April 29. The upgrade has been in the works for two years.
Strelish said the counter should be operational by the next meeting on May 14 and will make it easier and less expensive for the authority to gather statistical ridership data that the Federal Transit Administration requires and should also make passenger counts much more precise.
• The board heard from Ridership Committee Chairwoman Valerie Kepner, who said some riders have told her they find it difficult to buy bus passes because they aren’t sold at the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming. Others asked about evening bus service. And still others asked about photo IDs for senior citizen riders.
Strelish said the administration is “definitely looking at” evening service, “but it’s going to take a little time.” He said it continues to work on the bus pass issue, and Internet Technology Director Joe Roselle said they might be made available for purchase through the authority website some time in the future. Human Resources Director Renee Craig said funding photo IDs might need PennDOT approval.
• The board approved a flood insurance policy with an annual premium of $5,069.