Bus agency suspects contracted driver may have stolen cash from fare boxes

A contracted bus driver for CC Rider is believed to have stolen cash from fare boxes on routes from Columbia County to Portland.

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - CC Rider, the bus agency serving Columbia County, suspects a contracted driver may have stolen cash from bus ticket sales during routes from Columbia County to Portland. An investigation is underway.

St. Helens Police Department is investigating a report of theft that occurred on CC Rider bus routes sometime between November 2016 and February.

The bus agency that serves Columbia County provides rides throughout the county, as well as service to Portland Community College campuses and downtown Portland. CC Rider contracts with MTR Western to provide drivers for its bus routes.

Michael Ray, director of the transit agency, said fare boxes on routes to Portland that typically generate the most revenue toward the end of the month were coming back empty. That's when they began to investigate, suspecting a driver was skimming the fare box and keeping cash from bulk ticket sales, passes and other rider fares.

"The fare boxes were coming back empty and there was no recording of passes being sold, when it's obvious that passes should have been sold," Ray said. "Most of the people who use that route are gonna buy passes because they use it every day."

It's unclear exactly how much money went missing.

"We're not sure how long it's been going on," Ray said. "We discovered something might be amiss in late November, we confirmed that something was amiss in January, caught the perpetrator in February. We don't know when it started."

The bus that shuttled riders to and from Portland was not equipped with cameras, which further complicates the investigation, Ray said.

"The particular driver in question was driving one of our older vehicles which was not [surveilled]," Ray explained. "The particular reason to have cameras is to have a recorded history of what happens on the bus or outside the bus. ... unfortunately the older buses didn't have cameras and now we order all our buses with them."

Investigators have a suspect identified, but have yet to make any arrests.

Ray said the driver was confronted by MTR Western about the missing money when CC Rider noticed the problem, and is no longer employed by the bus agency.

The suspect's name is being withheld due to a pending investigation.

In the meantime, the county's Finance Department is investigating the transit agency's finances to look for patterns from the time frame cash is believed to have been stolen.

To curb the chances of theft in the future, CC Rider announced a new online purchasing system earlier this month. The agency will limit cash purchases from bus drivers and drive sales of monthly passes and single passes purchased in bulk to be done online or at the agency's office in St. Helens.

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