An April audit by the Federal Transportation Administration potentially shows that significant portions of Omnitrans' $191 million sbX bus rapid transit project may not be making it to the E Street corridor as it should. The audit which was made public last week accuses Omnitrans of violating more than 20 federal guidelines, more specifically, how construction contracts were awarded and managed. According to the press, violations included a contract worth $15 million without going through the bidding process. Another mess-up includes a 15% price hike on all change orders--the feds prohibit cost-plus percentage.
While Omnitrans and its new leadership are defending a few of the violations brought up, the agency has acknowledged responsibility of most of the accusations including the cost-plus percentage count. We predict that under the leadership of newly appointed Procurement Director Jennifer Sims, the transit agency will be able to resolve this matter by cooperating with the federal government. At this point, the agency has not reported whether or not all of this fiscal madness fell under the fault of former Omnitrans CEO Milo Victoria or whether the violations were intentional or done in error. What we do know is that Victoria resigned earlier this summer abruptly, yet at the same time, this is the first time Omnitrans has ever taken on a capital project of this scale.
What the public needs to find out is who exactly is responsible for the violations so that such a fiscal disgrace does not repeat itself for the proposed long term sbX extensions toward the west. Omnitrans has promised the feds to come up with a report by the start of next week and work is underway to update fiscal procedures, but more needs to be done. Officials also need to investigate the matter to determine if any crimes were committed with these transit funds. As mentioned, anybody found guilty of defrauding or embezzling our public funds should be put away in jail with mandatory sentences.
Regarding the sbX project itself, this project is certainly no boondoggle; it will be a fast north/south transit alternative to slow local bus rides in the area. The limited stop BRT line promises to speed up public bus transit times for a transportation corridor linked by high-volume activity centers: Cal State San Bernardino, downtown San Bernardino, the Loma Linda University area, and points in between. sbX will connect to a future Metrolink station in the downtown area. The line will mimic LA Metro's Orange Line through downtown and LA Metro Rapid in other areas--both are productive means to move people. Currently, one of Omnitrans' busiest local bus routes--Route 2--serves the corridor and current end-to-end trip times can last in excess of an hour. If officials can clean up the line's fiscal mess, it will be okay.
We want sbX done right!