Journal & Courier. Oct. 4, 2014.
Staring match over Hoosier State line
As if the future wasn't confusing enough over saving the Hoosier State, the passenger rail line that runs between Indianapolis and Chicago and includes a stop in Lafayette, last week's whistle stop tour by Amtrak's CEO showed just how messed up the situation is.
Perhaps sensing some blood in the water over the lingering negotiations between the Indiana Department of Transportation and Corridor Capital, a private firm with a winning, $2.9 million bid to take over operations of the four-day-a-week service, Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman came calling, city to city.
Amtrak's current stint operating the Hoosier State schedule was extended when INDOT picked up an option to stretch the contract's end from Sept. 30 to Jan. 31. The state hoped that would give INDOT and Corridor Capital more time to work out details.
Boardman's message: Why bother? Amtrak's still here.
And he brought an 11th-hour goodie bag with him — WiFi on board, food service, business class accommodations. Those are the sorts of amenities communities along the line have been saying should be part of the passenger rail experience, but have been absent on the Hoosier State.
Amtrak didn't bid on a new package to keep the Hoosier State when a change in federal law forced states to find funding for routes of fewer than 750 miles. Instead, Amtrak's official stance was that the state could take the status quo service and start negotiating over the extras. INDOT, not too keen as it was on subsidizing what it considered to be an underperforming Hoosier State, essentially told Amtrak, thanks but no thanks, and started looking for private partners.
This amounts to a big staring match.
All of which might be fun to watch, if it weren't for that fact that local communities had to persuade the state to help save the Hoosier State by chipping in six-figure sums of their own.
Patience is wearing thin.
Where was Amtrak's Boardman more than a year ago, when the community was at the table, telling anyone who would listen that passengers wanted the sort of amenities the rail company now says it will provide for the next four months? Amtrak officials say an automatic, 3 percent increase written into its contract extension will cover the new extras. But why was Amtrak waiting until now to do more than the status quo when it was clear what communities said customers wanted? And how close is it to working out better access to clear rails and fewer delays as trains approach Chicago?
On the other side, how serious is INDOT about working out a deal to keep the Hoosier State running? That seems open to interpretation, at best.
Or are both sides simply satisfied by poking each other in the eye, expecting communities with huge, unbudgeted financial commitments to stand by and watch?
Both sides talk about building partnerships. But talk with little action is how we wound up with today's Hoosier State.
The Tribune, Seymour. Oct. 3, 2014.
Prevention best medicine for BMV
If confession is indeed good for the soul, then the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles should be feeling a little better. But fixing the system in addition to admitting errors would be even better.
Late last month, the bureau admitted it had overcharged state residents for a second time in a little more than a year and said about 180,000 customers would share in $29 million in refunds. The errors date from 2004 and are the result of vehicles being improperly classified when they were registered, BMV officials said.
The announcement followed the settlement last year of a class-action lawsuit accusing the BMV of overcharging customers by $30 million. More than 4.5 million Indiana drivers were refunded $3.50 to $15 each as part of the settlement.
BMV Commissioner Don Snemis has said Gov. Mike Pence has authorized hiring an independent consulting firm to audit the agency.
"I don't want to discover any more errors after the damage has been done," Snemis told The Associated Press. "We want to have an independent consulting firm come in and be proactive about it and avoid these problems in the future."
The latest overcharge stems from how the BMV determines the excise tax on vehicles. Under Indiana law, vehicles are placed in a tax classification based on value determined by the price of the vehicle and adjusted for consumer price index data related to increases in new automobile prices. In some situations, the BMV's computer system did not apply the adjustment factor, which caused some vehicles to be misclassified.
The error was discovered while the BMV was manually entering the CPI data, Snemis said.
"When we started asking questions and looking into how the computer handled that whole system, we discovered that in some instances instead of using previous data it was using a zero adjustment factor instead, and that change was enough to cause some vehicles to be misclassified," he said.
The average error comes out to about $161, but Snemis said the bureau hadn't determined the range of payments that customers might receive.
He said the agency will work with the Indiana Department of Revenue to issue the refunds. He said people affected should receive a letter within a month.
Snemis said, "We're not shrinking from (the mistakes). We're taking responsibility for them. We're bringing them to light. We're going to make sure people are made whole through this program, and in the future we're going to do the same thing," he said.
The BMV did the right thing in quickly admitting its error and moving to rectify it. Waiting until a lawsuit is filed undermines public trust in the agency.
Now the bureau needs to take the next step and make sure similar incidents don't happen in the future.
Hoosiers should have confidence in the BMV, but not because of how it has handled its errors. Rather it should have the confidence that the agency is well run and reliable.
The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. Oct. 3, 2014.