9 Investigates: Costly duplication in transportation services



CENTRAL FLORIDA,None - Each year, the federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars to help the disabled and poor get around town, but investigative reporter George Spencer has learned several programs often provide the same services to the same people.

WFTV caught up with Arethus Hudson at the Lynx stop he uses almost every day when job hunting.

"At this point, I really need it, and it really does help me," Hudson said.

Without it, he said, "I couldn't get around."

Hudson is able to go grocery shopping, see his doctors and look for work thanks to a bus pass. Like millions of other elderly, disabled or low-income Americans, he gets the help from a network of 87 federal programs.

In fact, Hudson has been offered the same transportation assistance by several of the agencies that help him.

The programs may provide any type of transportation assistance, from simple bus passes to taxi vouchers for special trips, or even a mileage reimbursement for people who can drive their car or a friend's.

The trouble is that the programs overlap so much no one really even knows how much they cost or how much they waste.

Records show that just 23 of the programs require $1.7 billion each year. Leaders of the remaining 60 or so programs told federal auditors they couldn't even calculate their transportation costs.

"I was shocked. No one knows what the other one's doing," U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., said.

Webster said since the programs provide similar services to similar groups of people, one low-income senior may have transportation assistance offered and fully paid for by, say, the departments of Health and Human Services, Transportation and Veterans Affairs all at the same time.

Even though the duplication was first uncovered nine years ago, plans to coordinate have never materialized.

"Theoretically, you could have two different buses going down the same street at the same time -- one picking up one person, another picking up another," Webster said.

WFTV's calculations show the nationwide network could cost $6.4 billion annually, and Webster insists those costs won't decrease until the various agencies start talking.

Webster's office is doing its own review of the nation's subsidized transportation programs. Once it has a better sense of which agencies are the worst offenders, Webster plans to propose a detailed solution.