Audit produces enhanced management strategies

Chair’s 3 Minutes

In July, the County Council authorized an audit of the Maui County Department of Transportation. The intent of the audit was to provide the council and the administration with a tool to identify long-term strategic solutions to improve the cost-effectiveness,

efficiency and reliability of transportation services available to the public.

After months of work by RSM US LLP, a final report was presented Tuesday to the Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee.

Annually, over $19.3 million is spent on commuter, paratransit, human and fixed-route transportation throughout the county.

In the audit analysis, it was determined that ridership for Maui County’s fixed route has slightly declined from fiscal year 2012 to 2018, which is consistent with national trends. In an effort to better address this decline, a recommendation was made to evaluate the potential factors impacting ridership and to continue monitoring service levels, including route changes.

The audit also measured Maui County against 18 other transit agencies, including Hawaii and Kauai counties.

Compared to Mainland peer agencies, Maui County’s fixed route has high operating expenses per vehicle revenue hour and higher than average operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile.

Paratransit costs are also higher overall than most peer agencies, but still lower than the cost of services in Hawaii and Kauai counties.

Higher operating expenses are likely attributable to Maui County’s unique geography as an island, leading to higher unavoidable operational costs such as fuel, along with the unique geographic isolation of certain areas.

An analysis by the auditor was also completed to ensure that the many services offered by the Department of Transportation through its contractors and grantees are not duplicative.

The audit concluded that each of the transportation programs provides unique services to the community with very little overlap. This is a positive finding, as it ensures funds are being spent in the most efficient manner.

The auditor did call for improvements, however, in the area relating to strengthening internal controls with contractors when verifying fare collections, and strategically managing risk associated with all contracted transportation programs.

Although there were many recommendations, the audit did not find any major deficiencies. Most of the improvements relate to general operational refinements, along with the possibility of restructuring the monthly pass for paratransit riders. Policy decisions related to the findings will need to be discussed more in-depth at future council meetings.

In the long term, the audit did comment on an investment that may eventually lead to cost savings. Under the current setup, the county owns all buses and a private contractor operates, maintains and stores the fleet.

The auditor affirmed that a county baseyard may help to decrease the department’s reliance on one specific contractor, create opportunities for new partnerships with increased transportation revenues, and produce a more streamlined transportation system. Although this may be years away, this is an important focal point for future planning.

Finding ways to improve and streamline county government is always a top priority and the audit findings are beneficial in assisting the county to better deliver services to residents.

* Stacy Crivello is chair of the council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee. She holds the council seat for the Molokai residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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