It’s no secret that many people in Island County, particularly those with a more conservative bent, are skeptical about the fare-free bus service provided by Island Transit.
Some people see tax dollars being wasted to transport a handful of malefactors up and down the island. The same people are dubious about the new Island Transit facility on State Highway 20, which has been described as needlessly palatial digs.
While such characterizations are unfair, Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose must certainly be aware that the perception is out there. Which is why she must make a great effort to show the community that she’s accountable for every penny from taxpayers spent and that the transit operation is as efficient as possible.
So it’s very disappointing that the state Auditor’s Office issued a finding against Island Transit for the second time. The Accountability Audit Report issued Dec. 30 states that transit officials “did not adequately monitor take home vehicles and fuel card use to ensure they are only used for official purposes.”
Certain transit employees are allowed to drive vehicles home so they can respond to emergencies and service needs at all hours. They were supposed report mileage on a weekly basis, but the auditors found that only 11 of the 12 home vehicles tested didn’t report mileage every week.
Employees with assigned vehicles didn’t document where they were driving the vehicle and for what purpose, the auditors reported. The issue was essentially the same finding auditors reported in 2011.
Rose claimed she was surprised by the recent finding and said changes suggested by auditors had already been implemented.
The fact that she was caught off guard is as troubling as the findings themselves. Findings identified in accountability audits can breed distrust in public agencies.
And what about the board of directors for the Island County Public Transportation Benefit Area? The board is made up of elected officials from the county and the three municipalities on the island. They should also be held accountable for the findings.
Rose has created a transit system that is, in many ways, a model for other agencies. She has shown that fare-free transit is actually more efficient and cost-effective than dealing with the complications of a system in which drivers have to collect loose change from riders.
Going forward, Rose and the board of directors need to ensure that the operation is air tight from an auditor’s perspective. And a little public relations might help. Many people in the community don’t fully understand what Island Transit does or what it is. There’s a common misconception that it’s part of county government, when it’s an agency onto itself.
Island Transit is planning an open house at the new facility in May. We encourage the community to attend.