Michael P. Buffer
The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice
WILKES-BARRE — The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has closed a probe of "ghost riders" on Luzerne County Transportation Authority buses and found no evidence of bus drivers inflating senior citizen ridership, a PennDOT spokeswoman said.
PennDOT officials reviewed samples of 30 days of video from buses, spokeswoman Erin Waters said last week. The state Department of Transportation launched the review after the ghost-rider allegations surfaced back in July.
But a massive decrease in seniors on buses is proof the count was inflated, authority board member Patrick Conway said Monday. It was less than 72,000 in June and dropped to less than 32,000 in September, said Conway, who alleged in July drivers had been encouraged to inflate senior ridership to get more state funding.
Senior ridership was at 54,000 in September 2011, when the Susquehanna River flood shut down bus routes for days, said Luzerne County Councilman Edward Brominski, the first official to publicly discuss the ghost-rider allegations.
The number of senior riders can be manipulated because they manually record when a senior gets on bus by showing either a senior transit identification card or Medicare card. Other riders buy student passes, swipe cards for a paid amount of rides or pay fares with cash.
Authority director Stanley Strelish said he could not explain this year's drop in senior ridership.
"I have no idea," he said. "If PennDOT was overly concerned, they would be here."
Strelish again noted the authority has approved a $600,000 purchase for the installation of an automated person counter on buses. This system senses when passengers leave and get on buses and will be operational later this year, he said.
PennDOT has a formula to determine the authority's annual allocation, and each senior rider counted results in about 30 cents in funds from the state lottery system. PennDOT allocated $5 million to the transportation authority for the state fiscal year, which began July 1.
County council in July voted to provide a local match of $463,233. The authority operates independently from the county's executive branch of government. County council allocates funds to the authority and appoints authority board members.
Information from: The Citizens' Voice, http://www.citizensvoice.com