CINCINNATI -- Just because something's unused, does that make it obsolete?
That's the argument between the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union over $800,000 in spare parts.
The parts, according to ATU President Troy Miller, were as-new and could have been used for the current fleet. He heard about the purge from employees working in the Metro bus garage.
"I was just amazed that this is going on," he said.
In an email, SORTA Chief Financial Officer David Riposo told Miller the agency found 4,000 items that hadn't been used for at least two years. The transit agency has already unloaded about $500,000 worth of inventory, recouping about $170,000.
For repairs, spokeswoman Brandy Jones said SORTA is moving to a new inventory system in which parts will only be ordered as needed.
"And so we're making sure in the future this doesn't occur," she said.
Those parts may one day be needed for a fleet with buses upwards of 12 years old, Miller said.
"If our guys don't have parts, they can't fix the buses, and if the buses aren't going out on the road, bottom line, it affects the customer and the taxpayer," he said.
To Cincinnati City Councilman David Mann, the other major issue is why SORTA had such a large inventory in the first place. The issue will be assigned to a council committee soon.
"On the face of it, though, this is very concerning, and if the problem is as it appears, we want it corrected and corrected posthaste because these are public dollars," Mann said.
Metro is staring at a $150 million deficit over the next decade , according to CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell. Ferrell and his staff spent much of 2017 developing their "Reinvent Metro" plan as a proposed solution to the budget gap. They presented the plan to the transit authority's board of trustees in December.
Part of that plan would include a county-wide sales tax to fund Metro operations and capital expenses over the next decade. The board approved a measure instructing transit authority staff to pursue options for placing the tax levy measure on the 2018 ballot. The board has not yet determined what that sales tax proposal will look like.
Rate hikes and service cuts are likely. Recent studies have shown that Cincinnati Metro is not reasonably accessible for more than 75,000 regional workers.
This story contains prior reporting from WCPO Transportation reporter Pat LaFleur.