The relatively new CEO of the transit agency Jaunt introduced himself to the Charlottesville City Council Monday and also had the chance to re-introduce a public service organization plagued by recent controversy.
Ted Rieck started with fundamentals.
“Our basic goal is to enable people to live their lives independently and with dignity and we’ve been doing this for about 42 years,” Rieck said. (view his presentation)
Jaunt serves the six localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission as well as Buckingham County. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires equivalent service to fixed route transit for disabled individuals, and Rieck said Jaunt performs this role for CAT for those who live within three-fourths of a mile of a bus stop.
“We also provide in some of the outlying counties circulator or intra-county service,” Rieck said. “We also provide links from the counties to Charlottesville and then we also provide commuter services into Charlottesville and [the University of Virginia].”
Rieck was hired last October by Jaunt. The agency’s Board of Directors asked the previous CEO to resign after irregular transactions were reported. That continues to have an impact on Jaunt’s budget.
“We had our CEO make some judgment errors in terms of spending money,” Rieck said. “That triggered an audit and that discovered some issues that Jaunt wasn’t doing very well.”
Rieck said Jaunt was making progress in correcting the errors pointed out in the audit, including misapplication of funds intended for rural use for urban purposes. There were also questions about administrative costs.
“We overstated some of our statistics which allowed us to get more state funding and federal funding that we were entitled to,” Rieck said. “This was an error that the prior CEO basically hoarded the data and did not share that with anybody.”
Rieck said Jaunt had to pay Virginia back a over a million dollars and that has happened. Record-keeping has now been improved.
The previous CEO was Brad Sheffield, who also served one term on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. During that time, he was hired on as Jaunt’s director. Rieck said other anomalies have been discovered and Jaunt is cooperating with the ongoing investigation. He said Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation officials will visit Jaunt’s headquarters next week for further discussions.
Rieck said as the legacy of the Sheffield era continues to play out, he wants to build a partnership with Charlottesville Area Transit, and he’s in close contact with CAT Director Garland Williams.
“We are working together,” Rieck said. “I don’t believe Jaunt and CAT have played very well together in the past. We are turning a new page on that I believe.”
That includes more frequent meetings to discuss common issues, such as driver shortages. Another issue is how to transition to a fleet that doesn’t run on fossil fuels to meet the community’s expectations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Jaunt is also seeking members to join an Alternative Fuel Advisory Committee to oversee a study for which Kimley Horn has been hired to run. Applications are due May 27, and the process will build off of a study that Charlottesville Area Transit is also running for their fleet. (apply)
They are also building off of conversations that have been taking place at the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership. In April, that group heard from transit officials in Burlington, Vermont about how fixed-route transit can carry students to public schools. Those conversations are now occurring here, according to Rieck.
“Today we discussed opportunities where we could see CAT bus routes overlapping areas where Albemarle County students live,” Rieck said. “Many of these people could conceivably take a bus to the high school, other schools as well. If that works out, we could save five or six bus operators for the school district. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really huge.”
Other avenues of regional exploration include the creation of a Regional Transit Authority and development of an app to help people navigate public transportation.
Rieck said Jaunt could also play a role in addressing the need for service to Crescent Halls, a Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority property whose residents have demanded door-to-door service be restored when the building reopens. He said the current service by Route 6 sees a large bus trying to navigate a small access road for which it was not designed.
“And my understanding is that’s an awkward movement for a larger vehicle to do so the thought would be to have Jaunt provide that service instead of the main route,” Rieck said.
Details to come in the future as Rieck said detailed conversations had not yet occurred.
Council pressed Rieck on whether Jaunt’s troubles with the Virginia Department and Rail and Public Transportation were over.
“First of all, are there any more shoes about to drop, and second, do you have a sense of when you will be past the shoe-dropping phase?” asked Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook.
Rieck said the long-standing issue is a pattern of mixing rural and urban funds that dates further back into Jaunt’s recent history. He said he’s being transparent with city, county, and state officials, as well as his board of directors.
“So I don’t think that there’s any more shoes to drop and if there is, that’s the one,” Rieck said.
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