Free BART Tickets for Caltrans

OCT. 27, 2010

By ANTHONY PIGNATARO

The California Department of Transportation recently began investigating an allegation that employees at the department’s Oakland office are scalping free Bay Area Rapid Transit tickets given to them as part of a state commuter incentive program. This investigation came in response to a CalWatchdog inquiry that was itself spurred by an anonymous whistleblower complaint.

When asked about the complaint, Caltrans personnel said they’d never heard of the practice, but admitted that it might, in fact, be occurring.

“We haven’t heard of that,” Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco said. But Rocco added that his department would conduct an investigation. A few days later, Judy Yamada, Caltrans’ chief of audits and investigations, called to confirm an investigation was underway.

“It’s a possibility this is happening,” she said, referring to the allegations in the original complaint.

Basically, the whistleblower alleged that a Caltrans program in which the department distributes free BART tickets to employees as an incentive to use the public transit system instead of driving to work in fact has insufficient oversight to prevent those same employees from turning around and scalping the tickets online or to friends. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the department was giving free BART tickets to Oakland office employees who already received parking spots at that office.

“I am requesting Caltrans to perform [a] thorough investigation of this matter since hundreds of employees are improperly receiving ‘hundreds of dollars worth [of] BART tickets’ per month,” the anonymous complaint read. “Especially, employees who are given a parking spot at [the] Caltrans office really should not receive BART tickets. For those who have been improperly receiving BART tickets should repay to [sic] Caltrans (or State of California) for the period of time that they have been abusing the system.”

The complaint also alleged that an unknown number of Caltrans employees were selling their free BART tickets on Craigslist. A recent perusal of the popular classified listings site found plenty of individuals selling BART tickets at considerable discounts, but no one contacted by e-mail for this story responded.

“3 High- Value $64 BART tickets for sale – asking $50 each,” one seller offered on Oct. 23.

“I have ten (10) brand new BART tickets for sale at $55.00 per ticket (face value of $64),” wrote another seller on Oct. 22. “Would like to sell as whole but will consider breaking it up in 2 groups.”

It is unclear from the complaint letter whether the writer actually works at the Caltrans Oakland office, but the writer was at least familiar with policies at that office. “The Caltrans HR [Human Resources] has recently changed a process, and now employees are required to pick up BART tickets (not mailed any more) at the HR office,” the complaint letter alleged. “[H]owever, this new process [does] not prevent employees from abusing the system.”

Caltrans’ Yamada said she wasn’t sure what her office would do with the complaint.

“We may do an internal investigation,” she said. “Maybe we’ll have an audit done and look at the process to prevent this from happening. We will definitely do something.”

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