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Audit: MTA did not properly vet applicants for Mobility program

A $60 million program intended to provide people with disabilities door-to-door public transportation gave rides to people who did not meet requirements, according to a state audit released Friday.

The Office of Legislative Audits found that the Maryland Transit Administration did not properly vet participants in its Mobility Paratransit Program, which helps people who are not physically able to use other transit services.

Of 30 applications evaluated by auditors, none had adequate documentation to show that they needed the service. Two of the cases reviewed in the audit indicated that riders had short-term disabilities but were granted three years of mobility access.

The Mobility trips cost an average of $39.47, but riders pay only $1.85. The program provided 1.7 million rides last year at a cost of $59.7 million, according to MTA records provided in the audit.

In a response, the state's Department of Transportation said it is taking steps to address issues raised by the audit. In December, the MTA began random sampling of applications to the paratransit program to ensure that the required physician's information is provided, among other provisions to ensure that only riders in need of door-to-door service were receiving it.

"It is a process that not only helps, it reaffirms the positive strides we are making," said MTA spokesman Terry Owens. He said only one of the issues raised in the audit — inadequate control over the inventory of supplies — had been mentioned in the previous audit of the agency. "That's a positive statement about the job we are doing."

The audit also found that the MTA had not adequately monitored labor and other costs for a $10 million engineering contract and that it had paid out $112.7 million toward retiree and employee health care claims without verifying them, among other record-keeping oversights raised in the 42-page document.

"I'd say there are significant issues here that need to be addressed," said Bruce A. Myers, the state's legislative auditor.

The department's response said it has addressed the contract cost issue by reminding contractors to get agency approval before increasing the labor costs for a project. It also said it had hired a health care analyst to improve claims oversight.

In reviewing the Mobility program, Myers said, the audit found "a lack of formal guidance," about how to evaluate applicants. He said many of the filings did not include enough information to explain why applicants needed special transportation.

The Department of Transportation said it has since changed the process, having office staff enter data while managers review applications to make sure they are complete and accurate.

Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., vice chairman of the House transportation and environment subcommittee, said he had not seen the report, but added that the lack of repeat findings was positive sign. Still, some of the contracting issues concerned him.

"Any time we get an audit [and] contracts aren't being reviewed properly, we need to go after the agency head" and make changes, said DeBoy, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Ed Cohen, a frequent bus rider and past president of the Transit Riders Action Council, said the MTA's biggest problem is that it lacks resources.

"If you want things to work well, you need people," he said. "MTA doesn't have enough people to do anything."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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