ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In Miami-Dade County, Florida, there's a county garage with 157 cars in it: police patrol cars and vans, as well as some Toyota Priuses. We learn this from The Miami Herald. And here's what's newsworthy here: the vehicles - some of which were purchased back in 2006 - are all unused. And 157 is just the number of remaining unused cars in the garage. In 2008, The Herald reports, there were 1,200 vehicles in that garage. Why did Miami-Dade stockpile new cars? We're going to ask Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei. Welcome to the program.
PATRICIA MAZZEI: Thanks for having me.
SIEGEL: And take us back to 2006. Why was the county in such a car-buying mood?
MAZZEI: Well, this is something that we still don't really know. But South Florida was having boom days in Miami-Dade County, bought a lot of cars for its fleet.
SIEGEL: It's fleet, meaning the cars that various county employees would drive for their work?
MAZZEI: Yes. Miami-Dade County has nearly 27,000 employees and currently has about 7,300 cars assigned to different employees, departments, including police.
SIEGEL: So how many cars do we think they actually bought back around 2006?
MAZZEI: They bought 908.
SIEGEL: Nine hundred eight cars. And I gather, from what I saw in your story, as far as the Priuses - of which were there many - were concerned, they did at least get a pretty good price for buying in bulk.
MAZZEI: Yes. And this would have been fine, except that, in 2007, they decided to reduce the number of vehicles in service in their fleet, which meant that a lot of cars that they had in service became surplus and they kept those in the garage, too, along with the new cars and that's how they got to 1,200 cars in the spring of 2008 that were sitting in the garage unused.
SIEGEL: Well, what have they done with all those cars in recent years in order to get the garage relatively empty with only 157 cars in it?
MAZZEI: They slowly put them back in circulation. The police department, for example, goes through eight or nine patrol cars each month that they need replaced either because they are in accidents or they exceed the mileage that the county likes to give to their cars - they go up to 100,000 miles. And so they've been putting them in circulation slowly, but folks still were worried that there were too many cars in the garage, especially the Priuses because the warranty of a Prius starts expiring as soon as you buy one as opposed to the other cars, where it goes into effect when you start using the car.
SIEGEL: I gather this has become a pretty big political hot potato. Why did Miami-Dade amass so many cars?
MAZZEI: It's an election year. We have a mayoral election. We had one last year, as well, because there was a recall of the county mayor and so that left a lot of lingering anger, especially among Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, who are very reliable, consistent voters.
And so this story just kind of snowballed from television, Spanish language television and radio and the mayor and his staff and his opponents, the chairman of the county commission, have been on TV and radio virtually every day for the past week, week and a half, talking about this.
SIEGEL: Talking about cars. But, in all these years, didn't somebody mention that there were, you know, at one point, a couple of hundred Priuses sitting in the county garage?
MAZZEI: There is at least one longtime county commissioner who brought this issue up more than two years ago, who went to the garage, who knew that the cars were there, who put forth a resolution, asking for the then county manager to put forth a report, which is the one that we found detailing all the information about the Priuses. But, after that report came out, it doesn't appear like anybody really took any steps and there wasn't that outrage in 2010. They gave them maintenance every two months.
SIEGEL: They were maintaining all the cars every two months?
MAZZEI: Yeah. That memo from 2010 actually says, every two months, you know, the Priuses' batteries were connected and we drove them around to charge them and we checked the brakes and the rotors and tires and we washed them. So they were being maintained.
SIEGEL: So this was somebody's job for the county, maintaining new unused cars that sat in the county garage?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIEGEL: Thank you. Thank you very much for talking about that.
MAZZEI: Thanks for having me.
SIEGEL: That's reporter Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald about the surprising large stockpile of cars owned by Miami-Dade County. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.