Adam Elmahrek at the union-funded Voice of OC steps up with an excellent story today on the OCTA’s Board unanimous vote to stop a $19+ million subsidy to the LA-centric Metrolink commuter rail system: OCTA Board Withholds Money From Metrolink.
OCTA Director Jeff Lalloway correctly points out the “forensic” audit that’s been called for to investigate the financial malfeasance and plain sloppiness at the Metrolink bureaucracy has not been accomplished — in fact, it’s yet to be approved as the Metrolink “board has decided to finish with the work of external auditor and a financial consultant before starting the forensic audit” per their public affairs spokeshole. Mr. Lalloway has good experience with these forms of audits as he and his Irvine City Council colleagues (the honest ones) on the Great Park Board have called for similar action to investigate the misuse and disappearance of nearly $200 million in Park development funds.
Even though he voted to withhold the funds, OC Supervisor Shawn Nelson (who is also a Metrolink Board member, along with OCTA Director/Public Member Michael Hennessey — Elmahrek failed to mention these relationships) seemed a bit timid in his remarks:
“Our budget here is not a referendum on theirs, and it’s a mistake to see it that way,” said OCTA Director and county Supervisor Shawn Nelson. “You poke these people in the eye enough… I’m just trying to understand how that works for us. To flip them the bird and just say we’re gonna cut off the funds, and we’re not gonna play ball, we’re going home. Where are we going home to?”
Nelson needs to get pissed about this, especially as he’s the politically important voice on the Metrolink Board (Hennessey has no clout as he’s not an elected) and an attorney by trade. His quotes above sound overly diplomatic, especially considering that Metrolink is also asking for a five percent fare increase and raises for its apparently less than competent personnel. Nelson needs to show more spine in dealing with his colleagues in L.A., and should appreciate that holding onto the check sends a unmistakable message to those who are otherwise spitting in your eye.
The Register covered the controversy in three paragraphs:
Orange County helps pay to run the commuter trains and has raised alarms about financial mismanagement and accounting irregularities at the regional rail authority. Auditors concluded earlier this year that Metrolink’s books were in such shoddy condition that it might not even detect fraud. Metrolink wanted Orange County to increase its contribution by $800,000, but OCTA directors balked – in part because the rail agency is also raising fares and talking about giving out merit raises. They kept Orange County’s share at $19.9 million, the same as last year, with $800,000 more set aside but available only if Metrolink undertakes a deeper forensic audit of its finances. “We want to actually know where our money is,” said OCTA director Michael Hennessey, who represents Orange County on the Metrolink board.
As long as the Metrolink is being audited, we’d like to see an extremely transparent treatment of their finances — particularly, it would be informative to determine the precise cost of a ride including the passenger’s fare AND the government’s subsidy of it. This should also include any free parking that’s offered the train commuter to entice their use of this transportation dinosaur. This information has been hidden for years, and we believe if the informed voting public were to learn the TRUE COST of Metrolink’s 19th century technology, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if Orange County pulled out of the system all-together and put its money toward more productive use like the apparently successful signal synchronization that serves far more people than train commuters, or perhaps just some more pavement. Here’s a place to get started: The Folly of Passenger Rail — Reason Foundation’s Moore explains why the concept doesn’t work.
Let’s also not ignore the costs of continued development of the Metrolink. The OCTA budget includes other nonsense related to rail projects. Per the Register:
$200 million for rail improvements, which include construction of a Metrolink Station in Placentia. The money also will pay for work on the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, better known as ARTIC and touted by city leaders as Orange County’s Grand Central Station. An additional $14 million is budgeted for developing streetcar projects in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
We’d speculate that a new station in Placentia is just a political sop to someone, or just a way to burn some money in the name of “progress” — how many people would it actually serve? How is it justified? Who asked for it? By referendum? We recall interviewing city staff in Buena Park years ago who, to a man, questioned why their city was gifted with a $14 million station they insisted they had no need for — but Art Brown, an OCTA Director (and one-time Board Chairman) wanted it on his political resume.
And as we’ve tirelessly covered here, ARTIC is a $174 million barn that benefits only the friends of Curt Pringle and Lucy Dunn — it’s reason for being is to service the Bullet Train that’s NEVER coming to Anaheim. Anaheim has a perfectly adequate train station now (only the 3rd busiest in the OC) which does not even accommodate all of Metrolink’s routes.
Metrolink needs to be exposed for the worthless dog it actually is — a money pit that serves only a few for an enormous cost, and ancient technology that’s long past any value — even to human life: