Review: RI transit agency lacked fiscal oversight

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Financial oversight at the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority was so poor that the agency would pay bills without first checking to see if it could cover the expenses, a state police officer tapped to overhaul the troubled agency's operations said.

Lt. Colonel Raymond Studley, the interim transit chief, said that his review of RIPTA found "multiple problems" and that without additional funding, the agency is set to run out of cash in late winter or early spring.

Studley said a team he brought in to review the agency found that RIPTA was not analyzing its monthly cash flow and was approving payments for goods and services without checking to see if there was money on hand.

It was similar to "writing a check without knowing how much money is in your account," he said.

Studley began an examination of the transit agency's operations in August, following an incident in which someone covered security cameras in a room where cash bus fares are counted. Chief executive Charles Odimgbe was placed on paid administrative leave to allow Studley to conduct his review. Several agency employees also were fired.

Studley said new financial oversight controls and security procedures have been put in place.

He said the agency must quickly identify ways to cut its costs before it runs out of money. A statement from RIPTA said it expects to show a "significant" deficit next year.

Officials have not said whether any money was taken during the security breach. Some $5 million to $6 million in cash receipts comes through the agency's Providence headquarters every year. The investigation is continuing.

RIPTA operates the statewide bus and trolley system. About 70,000 passengers use its services every day.

Attempts to reach Odimgbe on Thursday were unsuccessful.