ATLANTA — Atlanta city officials have finally released a highly critical audit of the first seven months of operations of the city’s $99 million streetcar system.
Among the findings: Technicians aren’t trained to repair the system’s $4 million cars and would have to ask for help from the manufacturer for nearly all repairs.
The audit is one of many required by a December 2014 safety agreement signed by city officials, plus state and federal transportation officials.
Channel 2 Action News learned of its existence on August 17 and filed a request for the document under terms of the state open records law. But city officials spent weeks refusing to release it. As recently as last week, Melissa Mullinax, an aide to Mayor Kasim Reed, told the City Council Transportation Committee, “We’re not going to take possession of that document,” even though the city had already paid an independent consultant to produce the report.
Mullinax said the city had decided that the audit was premature and wanted to conduct a new audit since there had been a complete turnover in streetcar management. The mayor’s office finally relented and released the document to the Council Transportation Committee and to Channel 2 Acton News.
Among the audit’s findings: There have been over a hundred instances of problems with the overhead contact system that carries the electricity that powers the streetcars.
The agency does not have sufficient staff or expertise to address what the report calls a “critical situation,” and no contractor is on board to complete repairs.
Three accidents involving streetcars have been to some degree caused by driver fatigue.
The audit – conducted by Kensington Consulting LLC – said after seven months streetcar officials had not conducted required service on anything but heating and air conditioning in the cars.
They wrote, “This is a grave risk to the agency; should a mechanical failure occur…and result in injury or fatality…the resulting investigation will reveal this failure.”
About regular maintenance, the auditors said, “Technicians had not received sufficient training… and did not know to perform repairs that had already been needed.
The city did not provide anyone to answer questions but sent a statement that major changes have been made in streetcar management and calling the system “safe.” The statement also says many of the audit’s recommendations have already been implemented.
The city is currently awaiting a decision on its request for an additional $19.7 million from the Federal Transit Administration. The city wants to use the money to help connect the east end of the current streetcar system to the Atlanta Beltline.
A senior FTA official visited Atlanta last Friday for closed-door talks with the city and the Georgia DOT. An FTA spokesman said that Carolyn Fowler would not be available to answer questions during her visit.
Sources familiar with the visit tell Channel 2 Action News Fowler was there to convey Washington’s displeasure with the problems Atlanta has been having.
Mayor Reed’s office says the city has not received official word on the current grant application.
The streetcar system has carried about 587,000 riders since operations began December 30, 2014. The system is currently free but is scheduled to begin charging riders $1 on January 1, 2016.