Ridership increased on countywide bus system in  2017

By Ann McCreary

A state audit of the Okanogan County Transit Authority, which operates the countywide bus service called TranGO, found that during the first two years of operation the transit authority’s financial reporting was inaccurate.

The transit authority was created through a vote of Okanogan County residents in 2013 and began bus operations during 2015. A recently released state audit that examined the transit authority’s financial records from January 2015 through December 2016 identified “deficiencies in internal controls over financial reporting that hindered the Transit Authority’s ability to produce reliable financial statements.”

Kelly Scalf, TranGO general manager, said the problems identified by the Washington State Auditor’s Office were largely due to the new business’s inexperience with the complexities of accounting for sales tax revenues received from the state. The audit report “wasn’t a surprise to the board [of directors] or to me,” Scalf said. The findings in the routine audit have been addressed and corrected, she said.

TranGO is funded through sales tax revenues that are collected in Okanogan County. Scalf, who was hired as manager in late 2014, said 2015 was the first full year that the bus service received sales taxes. Because the transit authority has a small staff, it contracts with a private accounting firm to prepare financial statements.

“In talking with the accountant [in 2015] we weren’t sure what to estimate for a full year of income … because we didn’t have a full year” of operating experience, she said. “When you think about starting a brand-new business, it takes time to get things in place.”

The audit found that the transit authority overstated 2015 sales tax revenue by one month and understated 2016 sales tax revenue by one month, each by about $200,000. The transit service also incorrectly classified about $400,000 worth of vehicles as a cash asset, rather than a capital asset. The financial reporting errors didn’t affect the company’s actual revenues, Scalf said.

The audit also found errors in reporting net capital assets and depreciation, and in accounts payable liability.

“Because of a limited staff and the complexity of governmental accounting, the Transit Authority relies on a certified public accountant …” the audit said. “The Transit Authority lacked an effective review of the financial statements prepared by the contracted firm.”

Auditors recommended the transit authority provide training to staff responsible for accounting and financial reporting, and complete an independent review of the accuracy of financial statements.

“As we’ve hired staff, we’ve done training,” Scalf said. She said the auditors looked at the transit authority’s 2017 financial records to see if the problems have been addressed, and were satisfied, Scalf said. “They tested forward into 2017… the corrections have been made,” she said.

Growing ridership

Bus ridership has grown steadily as TranGO has expanded its service over the past three years, Scalf said. Buses began running between the cities of Omak and Okanogan in July 2015, and during those six months there were 10,700 trips.

In July 2016 TranGO added routes throughout the county, including the Methow Valley, and ridership that year was 35,434 trips countywide.

Last year, 2017, was the first full year of service throughout the county, and TranGO had 56,938 trips. The transit authority provides about 2,500 trips per month on its busiest route between Omak and Okanogan.

In the Methow Valley, the route between Twisp and Winthrop has seen ridership average between 250-350 trips per month, Scalf said. The route between Twisp and Okanogan has about 100 trips per month, she said.

Ridership in the Methow has slowly increased since it began last summer. “The board is pleased with the growth in ridership,” Scalf said.

She said she plans to survey the Methow Valley community again to learn what the transportation priorities are. One of the questions will be whether valley residents want transportation to Wenatchee, primarily to access medical services.

In addition to bus service, TranGO also has vans that are available for vanpools. Vanpools in the Okanogan Valley currently carry riders to Tonasket and to Chief Joseph Dam. TranGO has acquired small, six-person vans that are being prepared for service and could potentially be used to bring workers from other communities to the Methow Valley. Scalf said TranGO is also working to create more signage and bus shelters around the county.