Florida’s Miami-Dade County spent $4 million buying approximately 300 vehicles between 2006 and 2007 and then "abandoned" them in a county parking garage, according to a local investigative report.
Most of the forgotten fleet were “clean” energy Toyota Priuses.
The 293 “rusty” vehicles were discovered last October by the News America newscast Channel 41 in Miami. The station spent the next eight months investigating what they found.
“Once officials in Miami-Dade County discovered the station’s investigation, they rushed to put as many vehicles as possible into the active fleet. Since the end of last year, between 123 and 135 Priuses have entered county service,” Autominded reports.
But here’s the kicker: “Toyota introduced the third-generation of the Prius in 2009, so by the time these second-gen cars were hitting the Miami streets, even Toyota had moved on.”
Needless to say, the story has grown into bit of a political scandal. Joe Martinez, Miami-Dade County Commissioner, announced last week the creation of a committee to investigate possible mismanagement and corruption, Enrique Flor reports in El Nuevo Herald.
"It's outrageous," said Martinez. "These new vehicles were bought out of control package and were stationed in a building for years. This is not the first time it happens. So you have to investigate this case and determine exactly what happened so it does not happen again. "
Lester Sola, the Director of Corporate Services, told the Herald that 135 Priuses were purchased to replace vehicles at various County departments that had “recorded more than 130,000 miles of travel.”
The county bought 135 new Priuses to replace cars with over 130,000 miles?
above '91 Tercel pushed 195K.
"We are making every effort to use these vehicles as soon as possible and reduce costs to taxpayers," Sola told the Herald. "We are in the process of assigning these vehicles are in the building departments require."
Sola assures reporters that most of the unused vehicles are under warranty. But as far as the Priuses are concerned, Autominded doesn’t think that claim is entirely accurate.
“They all have sat out their entire factory-backed 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, and the 2006-2007 cars are coming to the end of their 5 year/60,000 mile drivetrain warranty,” the site explains.
“It is likely that five years of zero use and south Florida heat has had some negative effects on the hybrid battery drivetrain. Lucky for Miami-Dade, Toyota covers the hybrid components for 8 years/80,000 miles,” it adds.
And Chris Tutor of Autoblog makes this point: “We're also not sure what that much time in Miami heat and humidity does to an unused hybrid powertrain, but it can't be good.”
Simply put, the county may have seriously messed up on this one. How did this happen?
“The leading theory is that [the fleet purchase] might be part of Carlos Alvarez's time as mayor. He was the mayor during the period the Toyotas were purchased, but a 2011 recall election successfully removed him from office,” Tutor writes.
Apparently, voters "felt, among other reasons, that he had been behind multiple acts of misappropriation of funds," he adds.
But according to an official explanation from Miami-Dade County officials, “the vehicles were ordered right before a program was implemented to reduce the size and expand the usable time the Miami-Dade’s fleet,” Autominded reports.
“The result was as many as 1,200 vehicles stored in the garage at one time, including 203 new 2007 Toyota Priuses,” the report adds.
151 Prius hybrids were left in storage in 2008. The number went down to 149 in 2009 and 131 in 2010. By the time Burgess gave his report in June 2010, almost half of the Priuses were in service with 103 remaining in storage.
These numbers were part of an official report that county commissioners specifically requested two years ago about the new cars that were stored and unused.
According to the investigation, the final tally today is 157 vehicles in storage. Of those, 57 are used to transport children for summer recreational programs, and 66 belong to the police. The number of unused Priuses is finally down to a handful.
“[P]ossibly as little as four or five are still waiting to see their first glimpse of the Miami sunshine,” Autominded adds.
For the taxpayers' sake, let's hope that new report is accurate.