Saturday, January 27, 2007

Where are the leaders at?

Pittsburgh PA - More on the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) and the fiscal saga they are in was reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It brings up a very important point which is where are the business, civic and political leaders at the public hearings?

While transit may seem an unimportant issue to business, civic and political leaders, it effects them as much as it does the daily transit rider. They should be present so they understand the impact on the proposed route cuts and how it will effect them.

PAT's Executive Director, Steve Bland, asked that very point. "It's time for [leaders] to step up," he said. "I don't know that they appreciate the impact [of public transit] on the community, business and the economy."

What the recent transplant from Albany is tasting is a bit of Pittsburgh. If it doesn't involve sports, the arts or pandering to the United Way, screw it. I grew up in and continue to live in the Pittsburgh area so I am more than qualified to say that the entire Western Pennsylvania area is totally backwards in its thinking and in its priorities. This goes from the individuals that live here all the way up the ladder to business and politics. It's no wonder the Western Pennsylvania region continues to stagnate, and even slip downhill further, while other areas of the country are moving forward.

In most every other city, business, civic and political leaders step up when it comes to public transit. Generally, they understand the importance of public transit to the region's economy. Not in Pittsburgh. From a City Council that periodically floats bills to ban buses from downtown to businesses that fail to even try to remotely assist the employees that depend on public transit through scheduling or reduced cost transit passes that literally don't cost the employer more than a few cents an employee, you have all the ingredients of a city that doesn't have a clue to the importance of public transit to the well being of the area.

Granted, PAT has been crying wolf on this for several years in a row now and perhaps the leaders are just tired of hearing it. Earlier doomsday plans did bring in a bit more input from the community leaders than the current plan is but it was still way under what you get in many other areas of the country.

Friday, January 26, 2007

If you tax for rail, some should go to buses

Milwaukee WI - The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on a symbolic vote by the Milwaukee Common Council which is sure to ruffle the feathers of pro-rail advocates.

In the strictly symbolic vote, the council wants part of any tax for the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail link to be reserved for the County's bus operation.

It's good to see some politicians starting to wake up to the fact that you can't just focus on rail when the bus system is faltering. All too often, the bus service is ignored in any rail proposal funding.

While the vote is meaningless in the long run, it does show that some out there are actually trying to look at the whole public transportation picture rather than just a narrow aspect of it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Another unneeded trolley proposal

Lancaster PA - From a city that has a transit system screaming for more operating funds or they'll have to cut service and raise fares, we have yet another mayor looking for a political legacy by trying to saddle the transit operation with an unneeded transit project. The Lancaster New Era reports on this latest trolley plan.

They will be applying for Federal funding in the coming weeks, already have state funding secured from Governor "Fast Eddie" Rendell yet have no idea if people will even ride the line.

And again, it's the same old reasons being cited from the pro-rail handbook. Cleaner air, less congestion and all the development that will happen. The Lancaster plan is doing exactly what shouldn't be done which is to literally build the line in an empty field and hope people will come.

There are no real plans to pay for the operation of the line. One can easily figure out that Lancaster's Mayor, Rick Gray, is planning on dumping the trolley line onto the local transit system as soon as possible.

The fact that Lancaster's TA is screaming for more operating money, the last thing they need saddled with is an expensive toy that is designed strictly for development purposes. That development, I might add, will be heavily taxpayer subsidized as is the case with just about all of the other rail development and is never admitted until it's too late to stop the project.

The pro-rail crowd is already rallying around this plan since it will slap a rail line down. The rhetoric has already started about how much better things will be if the residents just support this plan. What they aren't telling the residents is that their taxes will skyrocket to help pay for it.

I've ridden Lancaster's buses and they don't have riders tripping themselves to get on board. Building a trolley line that runs in empty fields isn't going to boost ridership on the system. All that will happen is that bus service will be cut so that the trolley line (which has to run since Fed money is involved) can be operated.

A Lance goes out to Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray for pushing a project that is designed more for political legacy than moving people. It won't bring the development he claims unless he forces the taxpayers to heavily subsidize private developers through tax breaks, grants and often unpaid low interest loans.

LTD's on-time rules gives it's new EmX a black eye

Eugene OR - A story in the News-Review tells of a problem I knew was going to happen on Lane Transit District's (LTD) new EmX Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

The tight schedules the LTD has for their EmX line simply don't allow for any type of delay. Well, what happened on Tuesday, January 25th on the EmX line shows that they need to rethink their schedule.

A father took his young kids on a ride on the new EmX line and while departing the bus, the doors closed and his 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter were on the outside while he was on the inside. Even through pleas of the father and other riders, the driver followed the rules and refused to stop and let the father off until the next stop which is 2 blocks away.

The driver is getting the bulk of the blame in this mess however, the LTD should be where the bulk of the blame is directed at. If the driver did what common sense called for, he would have risked his job for failing to obey the rules and delaying the precisely timed route.

The issue in this is the precision timing of the route that does not allow for any delays. You also have the fact that many of the stops along the line are left hand station stops along a busy road median strip and once you pull out of the station, it is unsafe to discharge anyone.

The LTD needs to allow for delays in service. The situation that happened on Tuesday should not be allowed to happen again because the drivers have to meet a strict schedule. I called this problem of not allowing for delays in an earlier Laurels & Lances column.

The LTD needs to remember that delays happen and drivers need to be allowed to be able to make judgement calls without fear of any reprimand being placed in his employee file.

At least both kids were safely reunited with the father so there is a good ending to that part.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

PAT riders blast route cut plan

Pittsburgh PA - Two samplings of the coverage of the first route cut hearings for the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It wasn't a pretty sight and left transit and Allegheny County officials squirming in their chairs.

There were the typical sob stories that accompany every public hearing for route cuts and fare hikes however, this time there were also pointed statements directed at the management of the system, the County as well as the method used to come up with the route cut plan.

The big issue at the first public hearing is the fact that the PAT route cut plan will literally isolate entire neighborhoods that do rely on public transit. I have maintained from the first time I saw the proposed route cut list that PAT was performing a hack and slash to the service rather than a structured attempt to "right size" the service as they were claiming.

PAT and County officials have claimed that these cuts are needed to "right size" the system and should have been done all along for the past 20 years. While I agree that PAT should have been on top of their routes and weeding out the non performing routes, what they are proposing is to eliminate many routes that do perform decently. What PAT and County officials fail to understand is that you can't do 20 years worth of service cuts overnight and you can't use the "as the crow flies" type of distance measurement which they did in coming up with this poorly conceived plan.

Many things which I have long said should be done were brought up in the first public hearing. Items such as extending running times on routes so that instead of running every 20 minutes, you run every 40 minutes as well as trimming non-performing trips from routes as well as dealing with the core issues within PAT's management structure.

It is interesting to note that Allegheny County Chief Executive, Dan Onorato, failed to attend the hearing and sent a representative instead. Given that Mr. Onorato has been so vocal about that these cuts will happen even if the State gives PAT all the money they need, I find it interesting that he didn't attend. Onorato should be required to attend these hearings given that he personally is pushing for this hack and slash plan to go through as is.

PAT and County officials will get more of an ear beating as 7 more public hearings are scheduled through February 7. Hopefully, PAT will see the error of their hack and slash plan and go back to the drawing board and come up with a more structured plan to deal with the situation.

TARC offers "travel-training" program

Louisville KY - The Transit Authority of River City (TARC) is doing a similar program that Sun Tran in Tucson is doing and that is offering clinics to help new riders learn the system. The story on this program is in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Partnering with an outside group, TARC is aiming to teach seniors that are giving up driving how to utilize the bus system. Seniors tend to be the most confused when it comes to riding transit for the first time or the first time in a long time and they do need some assistance in understanding the operation so they can utilize it effectively. This group is a key demographic group to target as they become more of a captive rider rather than a choice rider.

While the initial rider clinic at TARC was poorly attended, it will pick up as more people become aware of it. Many attempts at such programs are usually met with poor attendance the first few times and they are dropped from the budget. Systems that are persistent and don't give up do see an increase in attendance as time progresses.

A Laurel goes out to TARC for reaching out with a much needed program. The one suggestion I have would be to expand the program, once it has become more established, to include other age groups. The more people understand the transit system in their area, the more likely they are to use it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Kansas City's LRT plan unconstitutional

Kansas City MO - Some details are coming out on the voter approved initiative to slap a light rail line down in Kansas City and it's not the rosy picture painted by the pro-rail crowd that pushed for the vote.

The Kansas City Star has two stories regarding this upcoming disaster: Story 1 - Story 2

Pro-rail activist Clay Chastain, who got the initiative placed on the ballot, obviously hasn't a clue what he's doing beside living the LRT lie. His initiative that voters approved is filled with problems ranging from the mundane to items that are completely unconstitutional.

In Chastain's zealousness to have a LRT rail line slapped down as fast as possible, he didn't do any homework to see what all was involved. He just pushed to get the initiative on the ballot and then went into spin mode to make it look great to the public so they would pass the initiative.

Chastain doesn't care that it will cripple the transit system, just as long as he gets his precious LRT line. It's the old pro-rail philosophy of "damn the costs, full speed ahead" that is driving him.

There is no method to pay for the LRT line in Chastain's initiative besides hoping the Feds will just magically pony up the money. Talk about wearing blinders. He literally ignored any potential problem in his initiative.

All Chastain has accomplished with his ill-conceived initiative is to saddle Kansas City with something they can't afford. This also sets a precedent that any whacked out plan can go through now with just the hope that maybe the Feds will fund it.

Clay, your an idiot. That initiative shouldn't have even been on the ballot based on how poorly the LRT plan was researched by you. I hope that Kansas City voters put another initiative up to vote your plan down on the next election. They are beginning to see they were hoodwinked by you and the pro-rail crowd that so desperately wants LRT and trolley lines slapped down anywhere and everywhere.

Radical rail activists like Clay Chastain are one of the big problems with public transit today. They push for expensive and unneeded items like LRT without any true plan to explain how it will be funded and lie to the public by painting a Utopian vision of how much better off they'll be if they'll just support this unneeded and expensive project. Once they get it rammed through, they just shrug their shoulders when reality sets in but still keep pushing for the project they know can't be afforded by the city or the transit system. They live in a utopia within their own mind and try to shove that utopia down everyone else's throat through conning the general public into believing something can be done when it really can't be.

Congrats Clay, you got the Lance. I may need to make a special award up for idiotic pro-rail activists and call it the Clay Chastain Award.