Palm Tran buses are speeding along busiest bus routes, data shows

County commissioners concerned

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - If you don't ride the bus in Palm Beach County, you share the road with the men and women who drive them every day.

"Your mind is moving probably as fast as your foot on that pedal," bus driver Ronald Cooper told Contact 5 Investigators in November.

His foot sits on the pedal of a Palm Tran bus almost daily. A bus that is a 28,000 pound machine.

"It's absolutely dangerous," Scott Tetreault, another Palm Tran bus driver said. In November a group of drivers came to us saying they're pushing the posted speed limits to be on time to stops along their routes. Some saying the outcomes could be deadly.

In November, we clocked buses going up to 13 miles over the speed limit. When the issue was brought to Palm Tran Director Chuck Cohen's attention, he said speeding wasn't an issue. "I find that hard to believe," Cohen said.

Around the time our story aired in November, Cohen sent out a memo to drivers, urging them to "operate safely."

But, nine months later, we discovered new data from Palm Tran's own records that shows buses could still be speeding. We also learned that Palm Tran is putting the brakes on one of its busiest routes.

The data was obtained from a $4 million computer system Palm Tran bought more than two years ago. It uses GPS to track where each Palm Tran bus is at all times.

When we first asked for this data, Palm Tran representatives told us it did not exist. Contact 5 Investigators kept asking for the data and pushing for answers. It turns out the multi-million dollar computer system can monitor speeds and the data is available.

Watch the video below to see a behind the scenes look at how the Contact 5 Investigators obtained the data and used it in the investigation.

Palm Tran can print a report the day after a trip that shows how fast a bus was going every 90 seconds along the bus route. It took the Contact 5 Investigators months to obtain the data. An April 25, 2012 report was obtained that details how fast every bus along Route One was going during a three hour time period.

That data shows 15 of the 19 buses operating along that route during that time were speeding at some point. Some were going up to 20 miles over the posted speed limits.

"I can't tell ya if that was at a traffic signal and the driver sped up to go through (the light)," Cohen said. "It's still not a great thing but I can't tell you where it was. That bus may not have any passenger on it, it may have been going back to the garage."

When Cohen was asked whether speeding through a red light or speeding while empty was acceptable, he said it was not.

"It's still not a good thing," he said. He also said that where the speeds are recorded, may not be accurate.

When the accuracy of the speed locations was mentioned, Contact 5 Investigators asked Cohen why Palm Tran spent $4 million dollars on the system. He said, monitoring speed was a by-product of the system.

"We haven't been able to verify and we don't know where that speed was taken," Cohen said.

A majority of Route One, which runs along Federal Highway, has posted speeds between 35 mph and 40 mph. According to the data, some of the drivers were going over 50 mph.

When asked if this was a concern to him, Cohen said, "it is a concern anytime we see a bus going over the speed limit."

Cohen also said that he and his team are working with the computer company to get more reliable location results for the speed data.

When the results of the investigation were brought to the Chair of the Palm Beach County Commissioners, the organization that oversees Palm Tran, she said the speeding was a concern to her.

"Chuck said we're gonna make sure people know not to speed," Commissioner Shelley Vana said. "That didn't work, obviously, so, we have to solve the bigger problem."

One solution Palm Tran is proposing is adding more buses to the southern portion of Route One. Those additional buses are expected to be added next month. The hope is those additional buses will cut down on back ups and giver drivers more time to get where they are going.    

"It's in process now and that's a really good thing and part of that is because you came here," commissioner Vana said.

"It shouldn't take us to come to you and do a report on the news to get change," bus driver Tetreault said.

Employees from the computer system are in town this week working with Palm Tran to help the transportation company learn how to better use the system for speed data.

The president of the company refused to talk to the Contact 5 Investigators about his product or answer any general questions about the system.

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.

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