Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Port Atrocity of Agony County

Pittsburgh PA - There are many problems at PAT. Too many years of running the status quo and a decade of waste have led to a major mess for the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

A big problem at PAT are labor costs. PAT drivers and mechanics are among the highest paid in the United States while the Pittsburgh region is one of the lower cost of living areas in the country. This has always been the case however and PAT employees have always been well paid from the inception of PAT in 1964 when they were saddled with the existing Pittsburgh Railways Company contract.

Increased fuel costs and benefit costs over recent years have also hurt the agency.

The main problem effecting PAT however are the inefficiencies in the operation over the past 20 years.

These inefficiencies have been allowed to grow and create a cancer on the system. It's not just too many routes like PAT is trying to get us to believe, it's how the system is run in general.

In a poor attempt to eliminate the inefficiencies, PAT will eliminate 124 out of 213 routes, raise fares and lay off 400 employees. According to PAT and County officials, this will greatly increase the efficiencies in the operation.

Excuse me while I laugh.

What is being done is will not solve the problems of inefficient operations. What it will do is destroy the operation. The downsized Port Authority will no longer need as much money and the State will chop the funding provided and PAT will be back screaming for more money and chopping more routes.

The PAT cuts are not going to greatly effect the City of Pittsburgh all that much. What it will effect is the suburbs. The same suburbs that PAT has been trying to ignore for many years now. PAT has ignored the reverse commuting trend as more jobs move out of the Downtown core. Suburban routes are always the first thing PAT cuts service or reduced service on. PAT has not woken up to the fact that Downtown isn't the focal point anymore.

Let's look at this calmly for a little bit.

PAT's funding is based on how many buses it has, its service area as well as how many riders it hauls. While the PennDOT rules classify it as a Class II system which is a transit system that has under 1,000 buses, the other aspects play into it. PAT will not receive as much State funding as it is now once they chop the system down.

PAT claims that even though half of the routes are gone, it will be left with 75% of its service hours intact. On the surface that sounds as though it will be more efficient but one needs to look at the map and see, for example, that entire communities will be isolated. While remaining service may be near as the crow flies, in actuality with the geography of Western Pennsylvania, what may be a half mile straight line can turn into a 1 to 2 mile hike walking to the stop. That will not attract the ridership and the ridership losses incurred will put PAT back in the same situation it is in today.

How PAT operates internally is the problem. Both in Management and the Union. PAT is top heavy in management and I truly believe that many in management are lucky they know what the inside of a PAT bus or trolley even looks like. I know of at least 2 that don't yet they help run the operation. I also have issues with PAT's Union with make work rules and many other things.

As far as the system hack and slash, what PAT needed to do could only be described as selective surgery on the system. Eliminate service on completely non-performing routes. On many routes they needed to take the existing headways and double them so that if you had a route running every 15 minutes, that route would then run every 30 minutes. This would free up 50% service without adversely effecting the ridership. That freed up service could then be placed in areas that need more service or areas that have begged for any type of service and told they couldn't have it because there wasn't any resources available. If really needed, that freed up service could just be eliminated while still providing halfway decent service to the suburban areas.

PAT should have left the majority of the Express and Flyer routes intact. Commuters are the main source of fare box revenue yet PAT axed most of these services.

PAT should have dropped the North Shore Connector project. This project will do little besides suck out more operating funds once the line is opened. Given the fact that they are also reducing service on the rail line that would serve this extension, it makes the project even more useless than it already was.

PAT should have worked with their Union in coming up with the doomsday plan. Instead, in typical PAT fashion, they didn't notify the Union until the day before the announcement.

PAT is dreaming if they think riders will now flock to the stops to ride the "new" system. Besides the massive cuts, PAT is also planning a fare increase and a yearly adjusted fare increase every year after. Every fare increase drives ridership off but those in charge don't understand that simple fact.

State Legislators have indicated that no new money is coming PAT's way until they become more efficient and I agree. The problem here is that the way PAT is doing it will not make them more efficient. All it will do is lower all bars at the same rate and PAT will still be an inefficient operation. The core problems at PAT will still be there. Think of it as resizing a photograph on a computer. You can make it smaller but it's the same picture as before.

Some however are cheering this downsizing. This is to be expected but these same people, such as Dr. Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, who is chairman of the conference's transportation and infrastructure committee misses the point that this isn't the way to do it. Dr. Cohon obviously didn't bother himself to look at historical trends that show route cuts and fare hikes permanently drive off ridership. Once PAT initiates these cuts and raises fares, the exiled ridership will find alternatives to public transit. Once found, it will be difficult to get these people back and PAT won't have a "workable transit system" in any length of time.

Again I point back to the 1970's at PAT as the method to deal with this situation. To have a "workable transit system" you need to provide service to where people want to go. What PAT is planning to do is to take service from where people want to go.

I have studied how public transit works since the 1970's. I can point out what will and what won't with at least a 75% accuracy rate based strictly on historical trends in the industry. That number is even higher when it comes to PAT since I have studied that operation the most. I know this hack and slash move that PAT is planning will not work as they think it will. It is poorly thought out and is not addressing the real problems the current operation faces. This hack and slash is yet another stop gap measure to avoid dealing with what really needs to be done with the system.

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