Winter Haven, Florida - Mass Transit is causing mass controversy in Winter Haven where W.H.A.T (the Winter Haven Area Transit Authority) has purchased 5 new buses with Federal government stimulus money. Some are we asking W.H.A.T. is going on?
Polk Commissioner Randy Wilkinson, who is also running for Congress on the T-Party Ticket, says it was free money and free money is hard to turn down. However, Wilkinson says the stimulus money for the buses is a bad deal for taxpayers.
Wilkinson says while it appeared as if it was free money, it costs taxpayers all the way down the line.
The stimulus money for the Winter Haven buses was named by Senators Tom Coburn and John McCain as one of the top 100 worst uses of stimulus funds. McCain says when you do something like this you end up awarding outrageous amounts of government and taxpayer money.
The executive director of the Winter Haven Transit system, Paul Simmons says the buses were needed and that he was thrilled to bring them to Polk County. Despite the fact the buses carry an average of 15 passengers per run and ridership is declining on the system, Simmons says the purchase of the new buses makes sense. Although, the project appeared on list after list after criticism of stimulus projects. Simmons says he is aware of the need the system had for the new buses.
Wilkinson says W.H.A.T.? He adds with the ridership there is no need for the new buses. According to Wilkinson the agency spends more on the bus service than if it hired a cab for each rider.
In addition to the cost of the buses, there is another major problem. The population of the area served by W.H.A.T. has grown to more than 200,000 which means all federal subsidies for the operation costs will end. Unless voters approve a referendum next week, the Winter Haven Area Transit system will have to cut down on the number of buses and routes in operates in the system.
Simmons says everybody needs public transportation, but not everyone can afford it. When we asked Simmons if there is a contingency plan if the referendum, fails he said the agency is working on it.
But right now there is no plan if the referendum fails and it could be a system with new buses paid for by taxpayers and not enough money to run the system.
Wilkinson says it is sort of like the Trojan horse situation where everyone was happy when it came in, but when they found out the ramifications the taxpayers are unhappy and stuck with the bill.
What's W.H.A.T. costing you? $1.9 million is the price tag for new buses in a system that might run out of money.
Wilkinson says the federal government doesn't need to be passing out money like it was candy.
Unfairly criticized is how Simmons says the bus purchase is being treated. He says it is not about the public transportation, but about the stimulus and whether it was the right thing to do.