County approves more transit dollars, some wary of being "taken for a ride"
By Risa Polansky
For up to $16 million, Miami-Dade County bought itself an additional eight months of vehicle parts and repair services for its Metrobus fleet, upping a $40.7 million, 18-month-long contract with maintenance vendors.
But not without caveats from commissioners.
They last week voted to approve the contract increase and extension, though wary of how the money would be spent.
"People who do business with the county screw us left and right," Commissioner Joe A. Martinez said.
When his mobile office needed repairs, he was able to get them done for three times less money than the least expensive county-contracted vendor quoted, he said.
"We should be able to do it cheaper."
Mr. Martinez voted against the contract changes — the only "no" vote of the eight commissioners present.
His colleagues took note of his concerns.
"We have to start taking a look at what our vendors are charging us," Commissioner Dennis C. Moss said.
Mr. Moss approved the $16 million, eight-month-long contract adjustment — "we have got to put the resources into maintenance," he said — but seeks to make certain the county gets a fair deal on repairs.
"I want to make sure we're not being taken for a ride."
The funding source for the contract includes 36% federal dollars, about 45% operating revenue and slightly more than 19% People's Transportation Plan surtax funds.
The voter-approved tax was touted as a way to expand transit programs, not fill funding holes for existing services.
The newly approved maintenance funds are to be expended only if the transit department's budget can support it.
Transit is cash-strapped and scrambling for ways to not only maintain its existing fleets of busses and Metrorail cars, but also to expand its services.
Commissioners are considering several proposed solutions, including a fare hike.
Transit Director Harpal Kapoor expects a $20 million operations shortfall next year.
Doubting the county could maintain its existing services as well as new programs, the federal government has pulled funds from a proposed Metrorail extension.
Commissioners agreed the county needs to pay more attention to maintenance before needed repairs, and therefore costs, spiral out of control.
"The lack of maintenance in the past has created the need today," Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz said.
Agreed Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan, "We have had a lot of flack and we have made a lot of mistakes when it comes to transit and the repairs."
The department requested the funds, Mr. Kapoor said, to "maintain a higher reliability."