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2,000 Area Federal Workers Get Taxpayer-Funded Commutes

TOBYHANNA — The Tobyhanna Army Depot, at the crack of dawn, is when many of the depot’s 4,000 employees report for work.

Almost half of them arrive in vans. And their trip to work is free, paid for by the U.S. government.

“It is one more benefit that is provided to federal employees, just as we are provided vacation time or health benefits,” says James Antonelli, the CFO of the Army Depot.

The van that carries the federal workers looks like something that would be driven by a soccer mom.  But it’s actually registered to a local bus company.  And that makes it legally mass transit.

It’s called the Mass Transit Benefit Program. It was created in 2000 to encourage federal workers to use buses and subways and reduce “urban congestion,” according to its own documents.

In our area 1,766 workers at the Tobyhanna Army Depot use the benefits riding the minivans.

At the Veteran’s Administration Office in Wilkes-Barre ride, another 75 people get the free commute to work.

And at three federal prisons in our area, 131 men and women get to and from work by minivan thanks to the transit benefit program.

That includes FCI Minersville Prison Warden Jeff Krueger. He makes a six figure income. But thanks to the perk, he pays nothing for his daily 45-mile trip to and from the prison in Schuylkill County to his home in Lewisburg.

“I’m out there trying to make a living, they’re making better wages than I am, and they’re getting everything for nothing?” asked Patsy Mistishin of Minersville.

In the heart of Minersville, four miles from the federal prison, and at a gas station in Wilkes-Barre in the shadow of the VA center, commuters had no idea federal workers riding in the vans are getting the free ride, so long as they have six riders.

“I don’t get my gas paid for and they shouldn’t either.  It’s just unfair,” said Dyad Elbattah of Wyoming.

“If these federal employees are getting a ride to work, why can’t I get a ride to work?  Why must I pay?” added Mistishin.

“Our folks do take advantage of it, as they do with any other employer-provided benefit,” countered James Antonelli of the Army Depot.

Our investigation finds 1,992 workers in our area using the transit benefit program.

The cost to federal taxpayers for the commute in Northeast and Central Pennsylvania: $3.1 million.

At the Tobyhanna Army Depot, a federal report showed the program reduced smog emissions by taking more cars of the road.

And it saves 1.1 million gallons of gasoline a year.

The depot’s CFO says everyone benefits.

“There’s less traffic for those folks that aren’t working at Tobyhanna to contend with when our employees are consolidating and riding in van pools,” said Antonelli.

The number of area federal workers using the mass transit benefit in our area has fallen in the last five years.

James Antonelli at Tobyhanna says that’s because of cuts to the federal workforce, and not due to a lack of popularity.

83 comments

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  • Mari

    I’d like to thank those employees for using van sharing while helping our environment. It’s a win win for everyone. I had no idea Tobyhanna offered this to employees!!! And to those Vets, Thank You for serving our country!!!

  • ANTHONY

    FREE AIR MILES ON AIR FORCE ONE, AND TWO, HAS ANYONE KEPT A LOG. AND COSTS TO THE U S TAXPAYER PER A MILE/HOUR?

  • tobytune

    We are all @ a loss here because of Bohman,Lots of animosity towards the employees and lots of antimosity for WNEP-TV. Who really won here. No matter what the news about Toby I hope they dont WNEP in to report it. Not having the 16 news on @ lunch is a step in the right direction.

  • Thetruth

    Hey guess what channel is always on during lunch at the Depot – yep 16. Guess what channel is being broadcast now – NOT 16. Well played channel 16!

  • Mike

    This story is crap journalism. WNEP is off my viewing list and any advertisers that sponsor this “so called” crappy news station are off my list too!

    • MaryAnn

      This is irresponsible reporting! As reported in a disclaimer on WNEP this evening, it’s not completely free and the benefits out weigh any negatives that are being posed. Dave Bowman is trying to negatively sensationalize something that is being done to have a positive affect on our environment and to lessen the impact of traffic in the area. Investigative reporting is not always accurate! Make sure you report all the facts Dave!

  • Bob C

    WOW what an investigative report Dave Bowman! Public knowledge program that by any measure removes, conservatively, 1500 vehicles a day from the area roadways. Some of the same people commenting here complaining about it would complain about the traffic if the program did not exist. All of the activity the FBI has been involved in the area for years and this is the pinnacle of investigative reporting? I do not work at the Depot and I do not have a problem with a program that conserves resources and makes sense. Why do so many in this area look to their neighbors as the cause of their own woes? Wise up! WNEP how about helping out and producing some reports that are not solely meant to stir the pot on nonissues that only have the effect of producing mindless banter. This report was a complete joke! Calling it investigative reporting demeans the profession!

  • Jennifer Loftus

    It’s not a “free ride”, for starters. There is a portion that the riders have to put in. This is something that is done in many cities with large employers. The bank I worked for also had a ride to work program. It’s environmentally sound, it keeps the roads less congested, and it’s part of the compensation program. For everyone up in arms about this “free ride” why don’t you go to your employers and ask if this is something they are willing to consider? If the company is large enough, they just might do it. There are sometimes government incentives to do this in order to reduce emissions, at least that is the case in more progressive areas. For some people who work at Tobyhanna Army Depot, it is one of the reasons that working there is worth it. I understand some people might be making 6 figures, but that is not the majority. Some folks are coming to work from far, far, away. This is yet another situation where if there were better jobs in this area, there would be much less complaining from people who feel “taken advantage of” by federal workers with supposedly cushy jobs.

    • Cecile

      Why dont you tell your “father” to get ALL the facts straight before he does a story? Or is he incapable of reporting decently? Or perhaps he wanted to lie to rile the good folks of this community up because the news room does not do the van rides like Toby does and he is just jealous!

  • Pot Stirrer

    Oh…Hey…..We are looking for another rider in our van, if anyone is interested. It won’t cost you anything….

  • Pot Stirrer

    One thing that the story forgot to mention was the stipend that we all get in our paychecks to pay for the gas that goes in our free ride to work. I love it. It’s like a cash bonus every two weeks!! I love the Mass Trans Program because I don’t have to rack up miles on my three vehicles. I want to keep my new Audi pristene. I use our MTP van to do my grocery shopping.

  • E

    Ha ha ha ha! I knew it was only a matter of time until this news station ran a story on this subject to rile up the drones of this area. I love reading the comments attached to these articles, it really shows me why this area is falling apart. That is because of the people. Why do poor people in this region think anyone who is successful is just manipulating the system? Oh that is the only way they can explain away their failures and poor decisions in life. Lol. If people would use the time they waste on these comment to instead improve their lives they might not be so angry. I know, I know way to logical and simple for this region because most blame their woes on the government or dark skinned people. Ha ha ha ha!

  • nancy

    I don’t begrudge anyone who works for a private company any perk they offer. That being said, these are federal employees whose funding comes from taxpayers. There is no reason in the world that taxpayers should be paying for perks that are not common across the private sector.

  • Hal Donahue (@haldonahue)

    This story has the wrong spin. Government is doing something right. These are vans stuffed with six people, not limos. Want more traffic and potholes? Kill this program. We should have more, not less, mass transit but only if we want less traffic and road construction.

  • Rich Hawk

    I know several employees at the depot that just happen to be veterans. There are a lot of reservists and former servicemen and women who work in these facilities, and if you believe they don’t deserve a ride to work, then you are the most ungrateful citizens in the nation. I’d be more concerned about where the taxpayer dollars from the new gas tax was going instead of complaining about a company that defends you. I don’t think our vets and troops should ever have funds cut from any program provided. I know they aren’t all soldiers down there, but a large number of them are. Read into other wasteful spending for special interests before you complain please.

  • Rich

    Welfare is an over abused government funded program. My suggestion is for al you whiners to get off you tails join us on one of these vans pay your fair share of taxes and work for a living instead of us government/ private sector workers paying your way through life and supporting your kids.

      • Rich

        On contrary I have worked since I was 12. Everything I have in life I have earned, my house, vehicles, sporting goods,etc. I worked hard to get where I am today. So if I take advantage of this govt program and help the environment in the mean time what’s the big deal. Oh by the way I will be sitting in the courtyard of my manor protecting the serf’s that work for me. The key word is that they will be working earning what they deserve ” the freedom of being a hard working family supporting individual that does not need to have someonelse pay their way!!!

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