Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The Port Authority refuses to learn from the past

Pittsburgh PA - The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is set to do a major hack and slash of the transit system in June of 2007. Officially announced today, PAT is proposing half of it's routes to be eliminated along with a fare hike. A listing of the changes can be found here.

PAT and County officials refuse to look back at what happened in the 1970's at PAT and learn how to run a transit system properly. PAT Executive Director Steve Bland and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato believe that the hack and slash of the system will make Pittsburgh's public transit system more efficient.

Wrong. What it will do is spin PAT into an uncontrolled death spiral that it will never recover from.

Add to this that the unneeded North Shore Connector light rail project will still be built so it can further strain the finances and you end up with a pretty good picture of what is wrong with public transportation in Pittsburgh today. While dismantling the transit system county-wide, PAT and County officials are still running a style over substance operation. The North Shore Connector will serve a very small percentage of the population yet PAT and County officials are fully committed to the unneeded project.

While these changes are "proposed", past experience shows that when route cuts do go through from a proposed plan, 90% plus of the proposed cuts are done.

Until this point, I was giving Steve Bland the benefit of the doubt. He was left a disaster in the making from the former wasteful PAT Executive Director, Paul Skoutelas who steered PAT onto this collision course. I knew Bland would have to make some tough choices but what I saw of the proposed listing of route cuts, it's clear that he has little idea of what needs to be done to save PAT. I was expecting a much more methodical approach to this with less cuts and more service changes to make the operation run more efficiently.

They have literally cut off service to many areas of the county. Instead of selective surgery to the operation to make the operation efficient with minimal impact to the people that depend on the service, PAT opted for the bull in the china shop approach and just chopped service.

They went through a ruse asking the public to assist in coming up with a service score card to help assist the system in choosing what needed to be changed. Between using massaged ridership numbers for routes to get the results they were looking for and a preset decision that routes were going to be axed, they went at it. I made a mistake in my judgement and actually thought that PAT wanted to really do this with minimal impact since they seemed to be trying to involve the public to help guide their decisions.

I'll tell you this much, I'll never make that judgement error again. This route cut plan is very similar to an earlier hack and slash plan from the Skoutelas years and that is more than enough to tell me that the decision had already been made and the public input was just to cut down on some of the backlash.

While some of the routes eliminated did need to go, many more just needed adjustments to service such as making trips hourly instead of every half hour for example. PAT is also eliminating most all of the Flyer service which came to be as part of the successful plan that turned PAT around in the 1970's.

Even if the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania suddenly comes up with money to cover the deficit, PAT and the County have already made it perfectly clear that the unprecedented hack and slash of the system will still occur as scheduled.

Major slashing of the service and hiking fares will not make the Port Authority more efficient. It is detrimental to the operation to do such things. The PAT of the 1970's knew this. Why does the PAT of today refuse to look back to that time in order to learn how to handle the situation?

Steve Bland, congratulations! You've earned yourself the Lance as well as the legacy of being the one that made the ultimate decision to destroy public transportation in Pittsburgh. Dan Onorato also earns himself a Lance for supporting this unconscionable plan.

This hack and slash plan also earns the Port Authority the first Chambersburg Transit Authority Award for a royally screwed up transit operation.

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