San Diego

Questions Remain About Controversial South Bay Transit Project

Documents reveal county transit district chief allowed private company to avoid making $700,000 in lease payments

The chief executive of San Diego’s transit system refuses to respond publicly to questions about why he allowed a private company off the hook when they had promised to pay $735,000 in fees.

This public agency is required is required by state open meeting laws to be transparent in its dealings with private industry but when questioned in a deposition about his behavior, the chief executive said his decision was not relevant to discuss.

The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) has said it plans to ask voters in 2020 to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to fund future transit projects and road repairs. But when MTS had the opportunity to generate income for those projects, it chose not to. Instead, documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show that MTS failed to collect revenues owed it by the SYPS company, which runs the San Ysidro Transit Center.

The Transit Center is a $31-million project just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2012, MTS awarded SYPS a contract to operate the transit center. The majority owner of SYPS is Greyhound Bus Lines, which runs buses nationwide.

Monies generated by passenger fees paid at the transit center were to be collected by SYPS and forwarded to MTS. Those revenues were estimated at approximately $147,000 yearly. That money was to flow from the sale of transit tickets and other revenues generated by the transit center.

Total revenue due taxpayers for the five year lease was estimated at more than $735,000.

But court documents reviewed by NBC 7 Investigates confirm that MTS did not collect any of that money because Paul Jablonski, chief executive officer of MTS, changed the lease agreement.

Evidence of the controversial contract revision is included in sworn testimony Jablonski gave in on May 25, 2017.

In his deposition, Jablonski admitted he allowed SYPS to avoid making the required payments, and did so without informing the MTS board of directors or the public.

When asked why he didn’t inform the MTS board about that change, Jablonski said only that his reasoning was “not a relevant topic to disclose.” 

When NBC 7 Investigates attempted to interview Jablonski about the matter after an MTS meeting, he declined to answer questions and said only that the issue is a legal matter.

Jack Shu of the watchdog group “Transit San Diego” attended that same MTS meeting. Shu said Jablonski’s decision to change the transit center contract and allow SYPS to avoid making those payments is an example how MTS does not always act in the public’s interest. “It’s an old kind of attitude,” Shu complained. “It’s like, ‘We’re in control. You do it our way, or not.’ And that’s not right.”

NBC 7 Investigates shared its findings with the MTS board members, but they declined to answer questions about the transit center contract and Jablonski’s decision to allow SYPS to avoid making those required payments. Board chairperson Georgette Gomez did offer the following statement: “I’m committed to creating local government that is equitable, inclusive, transparent, and accountable,” said Gomez, who is also president of the San Diego City Council. “This (commitment) includes in my role as Chair of the Metropolitan Transit System Board. The Board is providing oversight, setting direction, and engaging the public on how the system can best work for them.”

Greyhound Bus Lines did not respond to questions about SYPS’s contract with MTS, and the changes Jablonski made to that contract. 

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