Saturday, February 17, 2007

PVTA seeks to rebuild reputation

Springfield MA - A report in The Republican tells of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority's (PVTA) attempt to rebuild its reputation after a year of scandals and poor decisions.

The first thing I noticed in the report is that the new executive director, Mary MacInnes, is planning to rely on the marketing department to help rebuild the image of the PVTA in the eye of the public.

I sense a fiscal mess on the horizon from this. Instead of creating new, additional marketing department positions, Ms. MacInnes needs to concentrate on just making sure the service to the public is safe, clean and reliable.

Marketing isn't going to change the perception of the operation and it doesn't matter how much you spend on marketing campaigns or marketing positions. What will change the perception in the public eye is safe, clean and reliable service. That and just doing what needs to be done which is to clean house internally.

When you start depending on the marketing department to create an image, your simply finding something to waste money on rather than spending it on service improvements. I have seen too many transit systems fall into the marketing department trap where they end up trying to sell the service like a can of Pepsi and do no real improvements to the operation.

I hope I am wrong but I just sense a massive fiscal black hole developing at the PVTA because they are expanding the marketing department. That black hole will be the marketing department sucking down the money without providing any real results.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

No more funds for PAT's LRT extension?

Pittsburgh PA - The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on Pennsylvania State Senator Jane Orie's (R) attempt to control the costs for Port Authority of Allegheny County's (PAT) rather useless North Shore Connector subway extension.

Orie introduced a non-binding resolution stating that the State will not pay any more than the already increased amount of $72 million for the project.

While I applaud the effort, her non-binding resolution is just that, non-binding. It means absolutely nothing when all is said and done. If Senator Orie is as concerned about PAT's financial situation as she claims, she would have pushed for a binding resolution that had teeth behind it.

This useless project has already gone over budget once and the work has barely started on it. Once started and the tunnel is being bored under the Allegheny River, you simply can't abandon it easily. PAT will cry the blues again for the State to pony up the additional money and the State legislature will whine for a bit but give them the money.

PAT is well known for wasting money. Anyone even remotely familiar with PAT knows that this project will go way over budget. PAT won't be happy with a utilitarian design for the project and will demand the full over-designed treatment that does nothing but cost money.

Orie's non-binding resolution does nothing to stop the State from bailing PAT out yet again for their excessive spending habits. Orie's words sound tough but to use an old cliche, it's all bark and no bite.

While I'd love to give Pennsylvania State Senator Jane Orie (R) a Laurel for her effort, the simple fact that her resolution has no teeth behind it to prevent any more State money from being pumped into the worthless project earns her a Lance. Next time Senator, put more than just empty words behind such an attempt to slap PAT down for their bad planning and spending habits.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ottawa may be stuck and Pittsburgh may follow

Ottawa ON - In a move that will be observed by many, the Ottawa Sun reports that the consortium that Ottawa chose to build the recently cancelled LRT line may force the line to be built anyway.

This actually isn't surprising given the nature of what is happening. Not just in Ottawa but all across North America. Building these huge transit projects is big money for the contractors, many of whom need years of lead time to design, order and build the projects.

With the rush to slap rail lines down without proper planning, this scenario is set to play out in many cities across North America. Pittsburgh may face such a situation if the North Shore Connector for the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is cancelled and there is a lot of pressure on the Feds to cancel the funding.

The Feds were unaware that the North Shore Connector was so unpopular. That stunning announcement was made on the Marty Griffin show on KDKA Radio on Monday. PAT received the funding in part by exaggerating and saying the unneeded subway extension was supported by all. State and Federal politicians are trying to stop the project even though work has recently started.

If stopped, PAT may face what Ottawa is facing now, a lawsuit by the consortium that is building the line to force the line to be built.

Expensive projects like LRT lines need to be planned properly. If deemed worthy of building, they need to be placed in high ridership areas, not used for developmental purposes. This rush to get on and stay on the LRT bandwagon needs to stop. Between the threats of lawsuits from consortium's already contracted to build the lines and pro-rail activists like Clay Chastain who will sue to build the line even though he doesn't live in the state, transit systems will be forced to build these expensive toys due to their rush to spend Federal capital money.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Free subway service studied

New York City NY - A New York Post story tells of a study being done by a transit advocacy group that is urging that the subway service in the Big Apple be free.

The 4 month study, being done by the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, is being funded by a $100,000 grant from environmentalist Theodore Kheel.

Citing that other cities, such as Portland and Seattle, offer free transit service in their downtown cores, the group seems oblivious to the fact that the transit systems in those cities are extremely small compared to the behemoth known as the MTA.

The plan appears to center around paying for the free service through congestion pricing of travel by car in New York City.

This plan is fraught with problems. Primary of which is that they are depending on the very mode of transportation they want to eliminate to pay for the free subway service. What they should call the congestion tax is a "sin tax" because that is exactly what it is. Just like with other sin taxes that are used to fund programs, it won't bring in anywhere close to the money that the advocates say it will.

The days of free transit service in the downtown core is rapidly coming to an end as well. With the cost of providing transit service going through the roof, many systems are making contingency plans to scrap the free downtown core service with my home town being one of those operations.

Ultimately what will happen if NYC adopts this free subway plan is this. The MTA will be bankrupt within a year. Taxes on all residents will be raised to pay for it and the bus service that many do depend on will suffer through massive fare hikes and service cuts.

This is just another plan by radical environmentalists to further destroy public transit which is disguised as a plan to save it. I am actually surprised that the source of the funding for the study was identified as an environmentalist. Usually the media buries that fact when reporting on environmentalist plans to "improve" public transit.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Where is the crowd at for LRT?

Edmonton AB - It's been a few days since my last post due to being tied up with other things but a commentary piece out of the Edmonton Sun put other things on hold.

In the article, it is clearly stated that the Edmonton LRT system has been plagued with "high costs, low ridership and poor planning" since its inception.

Wow. If you listen to the pro-rail crowd, Edmonton has a world class LRT system that has more riders than can fit into the LRV's.

The article caused me to do a little digging into my stacks upon stacks of paper to find out a little bit more about the early years of the Edmonton system as well as the much more successful Calgary C-Train operation.

What I found from back in the days when the line was proposed is this. Edmonton wanted LRT to spur development and be among the first cities in North America to be on the LRT bandwagon (yes, the phrase "we need to get on the bandwagon" was used by the city). Planning was rushed to secure funding and be among the early cities in North America to have a new LRT line.

Calgary on the other hand was the exact opposite even though they too were among the early pioneers of the LRT craze. Calgary placed the route where it did for two reasons. First was to provide service to the Stampede Grounds and second was to serve the already rapidly developing southern portion of the Calgary area.

Today, Calgary's C-Train is doing very well while Edmonton's LRT operation is stagnating and in some areas, going downhill. The reason? Calgary planned the line using the proper reasoning as to how best to utilize rail while Edmonton was in a hurry to just slap a line down to spur development which has been lackluster at best to date.

I found some other articles from various rail advocates at the time of the two systems starting up. While they gushed over both lines, the pro-rail crowd was worried about Calgary's operation while stating that Edmonton's line would be the "Gem of Canada".

That started me thinking about why the pro-rail crowd was so worried about Calgary's new line. It was properly planned, it was placed where it was needed and proper amenities such as ample parking were provided. Could that be it? Calgary didn't just slap down a rail line just for the sake of having a rail line? Knowing many pro-rail people and how they think, I'm more than sure that they were upset over the fact that Calgary built their line with a real purpose behind it.

I E-mailed two pro-rail people I know just for a quick opinion. What I found amusing was that they were still gushing over Edmonton's system but were quick to criticize Calgary's system. I might also add that the two I contacted were flaming Liberals who love government waste, especially when it comes to building LRT and streetcar lines. I responded to both asking why are they criticizing a successful operation while praising an operation that is having problems. No response from either.

I am constantly amazed at how the Liberal pro-rail crowd loves wasteful LRT operations while having big problems when the very thing they claim to love actually works efficiently and effectively. No wonder public transit has so many problems these days.