Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Tri County News

Suwannee Valley Transit Authority:
A train wreck working to get transportation for the disadvantaged back on track

The Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) showed up in Columbia County last night to update a tri county commission board on the status of the Authority. There was no representation from Suwannee County. Suwannee County is the home of the Authority. The former director, Jimmy Swisher, had been there for over 20 years. Most, if not all of the employees, are from Suwannee County.

Recently retired army veteran, William Steele, the Operations Manger, gave a no holds barred presentation.

For years, the Authority has been running at a deficit, its books were a mess, its finances were a secret, it's vendors were having difficulty being paid, quarterly meetings of the Tri County Governing Board (Columbia, Hamilton, Suwannee) did not happen and the few questions that were asked were not answered. This board is made up of two commissioners from each county.

The next board on the pyramid, the Local Disadvantaged Transportation Board meets quarterly. Its members include the Workforce Board, vendors, a County Commissioner from one of the three counties, who chairs the meetings, and the North Florida Regional Planning Council.

Some members of the Local Disadvantaged Transportation Board have been complaining for years of the mismanagement, waste and abuse that occurred at the Authority. The Florida Department of Transportation and the executive director looked the other way. Those that criticized were labeled dissidents.

At the top of the pyramid are the Governor and the Florida Department of Transportation.

Today, the Authority is running at a deficit and requires more government money to bail it out and sort out the mess that exists.

The funding source for the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority appears to be mostly from the federal government. While state grants are available through the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), it appears FDOT money also comes from the bottomless pit of the federal government.

Recently, Federal Stimulus money was used to purchase new buses. While the need of the Authority was for mini buses, the Authority, because of the requirements of the stimulus funding, was forced to buy the larger and mostly unneeded buses that folks see driving around mostly empty.

Last night the new management of the Authority came to Columbia County to update its condition.

Director Pra hid nothing from the commissioners.

During the past six months a new director was hired. Gwendolyn Pra, recently retired from the Florida Department of Transportation, was given the job.

Ms. Pra seems to be up front and straightforward. She is hiding nothing from the Commissioners that should have been paying attention all along.

Last week, the Authority hired recently retired Army veteran, William Steele, as Operations Manager.

No holds barred

Mr. Steele made a no holds barred presentation last night which laid out and updated the current state of the Authority.

The Authority is and has been floating in a sea of red ink for years. The routes have been mismanaged; the equipment is falling apart; the phone system is antiquated; the billing software is outdated; vendors are not being paid; there has been no financial control of overtime; and the Authority headquarters do not meet the barest minimum of federal security standards. The list went on.

Executive Director Pra and Operations Manager Steele, who has only been on the job for a week, appear determined to make a success of the SVTA train wreck. They are making every effort to be transparent and accountable.


The commissioners from the tri county area, or the ones from two of the three counties, are listening and appear determined to support and enhance the new management team in its efforts to provide transportation services in the tri county area for the disadvantaged. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Related Links:

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(Posted December 26, 2014)

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Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Grievance Committee: Other Complaints & Retaliation (Posted Sept 30, 2013)  (Part II)

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 • Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) Train Wreck Continues: Accounting still questionable - Vendors still not being paid
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 • Suwannee Valley Transit Authority:
A train wreck working to get transportation for the disadvantaged back on track

(Posted January 31, 2011)