Federal auditors have concluded Bakersfield's public bus system lacks important administrative controls and must improve its work with disadvantaged businesses, public outreach, contract managing and purchasing.
The Jan. 30 audit report by the Federal Transit Administration draws attention to missing paperwork and a lack of standard procedures in several areas. It calls for new processes and tighter adherence to federal requirements.
Unrelated to GET route and scheduling changes that have caused passenger headaches since 2012, the findings are important primarily because the FTA contributed some $5 million, or about 19 percent, to GET's budget this fiscal year.
"They've got the money, so we'll do what they say," said GET CEO Karen King, adding that her staff is working to carry out FTA'svarious recommendations. She called the once-every-three-years audit report a helpful "accountability exercise."
Without disputing the FTA's findings, King said the report essentially faults the transit district's lean administration, something the report specifically noted. But the report also says GET has an operations team larger than the average transit district its size, something King says is in keeping with putting "our resources into service on the street, not overhead."
It was unclear Tuesday of the consequences if the FTA were unsatisfied with GET's progress toward fixing shortcomings cited in the report. In a written statement, the FTA said it is reviewing materials GET sent it earlier this month, and it is working with the district to ensure corrective actions are taken.
The problems discussed in the audit report included that:
* GET lacks the knowledge and technical expertise to properly manage the grants it receives;
* Agency staff failed to conduct independent cost estimates or cost analyses for its on-site purchases;
* The transit district has not done enough to set and achieve goals for promoting potential opportunities for businesses certified as being disadvantaged; and
* GET has done too little to notify its customers of anti-discrimination rules, the availability of reduced fares for certain riders, or chances for public comment when major service revisions or fare changes are under consideration.
King and GET Marketing Manager Gina Hayden said it has been difficult for the district to perform cost analyses and meet disadvantaged business goals because of the local business community's modest size and relative isolation.
"You draw upon the businesses that are in the community," King said.
But she also pledged improvement, adding, "We just need to try harder."
The audit report has come at a time of heightened political sensitivity at GET.
Representatives of Bakersfield agencies serving the poor, disabled and homeless populations strongly criticized GET's 2012 system overhaul at a public meeting March 5. They complained that changes intended to shorten headways and make routes more intuitive ended up worsening access to local service agencies.
These comments prompted warnings from local elected officials who said they would consider making changes to GET's governing board if the concerns about access were not addressed.
GET officials later said they were working on system improvements that will address concerns raised at the meeting. They said they are also looking at shifting resources to improve overall service to riders.