DASH Study Finds Accountability, Transparency Issues
The Alexandria Transit Co. runs nine DASH routes in the city with 73 vehicles, plans are to double fleet.
A recent study of Alexandria’s DASH bus system found the system scored low on issues of accountability, finance and accounting, procurement and transparency.
The city undertook the study in light of increasing ridership to determine how to best support the growth of the system, which operates as a separate nonprofit under the guidance of City Council. The Alexandria Transit Co. runs nine DASH routes in the city and has a fleet of 73 vehicles, which is scheduled to double by 2020.
On accountability, the study found the ATC board needs additional transit and finance expertise and better oversight and coordination with the city. Also, DASH uses a different accounting system than the city, and there were inconsistencies between city finance statements and the DASH Transit Development Program.
The study found that procurement roles and responsibilities were unclear and that city staff was responsible for the majority of DASH grants. On transparency, the study found board materials were not posted in advance of meetings and monthly reports were not available.
At the Wednesday meeting of the Alexandria Transportation Commission, Commissioner Josh Sawislak took issue with DASH's management structure. “I've seen more clear management structure at Enron,” he said.
Sandra Marks, acting deputy director of the city Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, called the management structure a challenge that will be addressed.
“There's pros and cons to all of them,” she said. “... We think some of these recommendations will work to improve some of that.”
The study did name several strengths of the bus system. Those were high ridership productivity, clean and well-maintained vehicles and facilities, flexibility as a result of being a separate entity from the city, a high farebox recovery ratio (the fraction of operating expenses that are met by the fares) and reduced liability to the city because DASH employees are not directly employed by the city.
“The service itself, people are very satisfied with,” Marks said.
Recommendations from the study include posting board meeting materials in advance, including additional data in monthly reports, moving the city government and DASH to a single accounting system, perform quarterly finance reconciliation and consolidate finance and planning functions between DASH and city government.
Other recommendations include broadening the role of the ATC board, increasing expertise and city presence on the ATC board and have regular meetings between DASH officials and the city.
Also on Wednesday, the commission reviewed plans to widen Eisenhower Avenue from Mill Road to Holland Lane. Commissioners Kevin Posey and Sawislak complained that the plan includes a bicycle lane only on the southbound side and not on the north.
“I still don’t understand why it’s at this point,” Posey said, arguing new lanes would attract more vehicular traffic “… If we do that, it will come.”
Posey also asked why the city planned to build brick sidewalks in the area as opposed to stamped concrete, which is easier for people with disabilities.
Staff said they would gather more information on alternatives. The $7 million project is being funded through federal, state and city funds with construction slated to begin in spring 2014. The city is holding a public meeting on the project April 4 at the Lee Center.