Saturday, March 10, 2007

Another attempt by the enviromentalists to destroy transit

Montreal PQ - In Montreal's The Gazette, a report on an environmental groups demands that the Montreal Transit Corporation (public agency) test older buses for emissions. It sounds innocent enough until you come to the key sentence in the report.

"The point we're making is we don't want to wait for fleet turnover through attrition," Bruce Walker of the environmental advocacy group STOP said.

That little comment sums up much of the environmentalist movement's attitude towards public transit. Groups like STOP want public transit to price itself out of existence. STOP doesn't just want the MTC to test more of the older buses for emissions, it wants those buses scrapped as of yesterday. These groups refuse any form of reasonable time line besides what they set and don't care about the cost since they think public transit is just swimming in excess money.

Groups like STOP and enviro-weenies like Walker claim to support public transit but continually push to bankrupt it at the same time. STOP refuses to understand that money isn't free to public transit. It doesn't matter where you go in the world, transit systems are screaming for more money for both vehicles and to operate.

If groups like STOP and activist enviro-weenies like Walker get their way, public transit would be eliminated. They would place standards so strict on the industry that it would be impossible to operate the agency unless they obtained trillions of dollars each year to replace the bus fleet every few months and even then it probably wouldn't be good enough for them.

And don't even say "alternative fuels". Environmentalists already have problems with most of what they pushed for already. Bio-diesel? Can't have that anymore since it still uses petroleum. Fuel cells? Not anymore since the cell is considered toxic when spent. Electricity? They can't even agree among themselves on this one.

The bottom line is this. If the public transit industry continues to cave to every little demand from the so-called public transit loving environmental movement, there will be no such thing as public/mass transit in a few decades. These groups would make it impossible to run any form of public transit that is even remotely affordable to the average person.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Bay Area prepares for spending spree

San Francisco CA - Bay Area transit systems are gearing up to spend $1.3 billion dollars from a recently approved bond fund for transit infrastructure. The Examiner reports on the 12 Bay Area transit operations that will benefit from this windfall.

This sounds great doesn't it? It comes with a price however and that price is this. Will the transit operations, many of whom have been crying over not having enough money to operate, be able to operate the capital projects they are planning on building?

Yes, this is capital money. It can't be used for operating what these systems already have in place. MUNI in San Francisco is are planning on extending its Third Street light rail line with the money while at the same time crying about how they need millions more in order to operate what they already have.

Now, add to the new MUNI problem this point. Mayor Newsom is proposing that MUNI eliminate fares and provide free service (without any increase in operating funding) and you have a system poised for failure.

Capital money is easy to obtain. Sadly these transit systems are in such a rush to build new projects simply because they can get the money that they fail to realize that they can't afford what they have now. Capital funding needs to be tightened up so that it is harder to obtain.

Between the transit systems and politicians that are on spending sprees, the public that depends on the transit systems are the ones that ultimately suffer from the abundance of capital money. Why doesn't anyone use their brain and ask this, "if we're crying for money to operate now, how are we going to be able to operate once we have to start paying to operate the new project?"

While some of that infrastructure bond money will be used properly, such as BART which needs to replace its aging fleet of rail cars, much of the money will go to expanding existing costly projects for systems that are already severely cash strapped.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

CTA: We'll run it but we won't ride it

Chicago IL - Chicago Transit Authority officials appear content to run the system but they don't want to ride it themselves. Does this surprise anyone? The Chicago Tribune has a story on what is actually a common problem that effects every public transit system in North America.

While there are some CTA officials that do ride the system regularly, many don't. This has led to much criticism from riders who believe that the CTA management is out of touch with what they manage. The riders are right.

CTA President Frank Kruesi does ride regularly and encourages his employees to ride the system. " is important that we experience the service we are asking people to pay for" states Kruesi and he is right on the mark.

Some CTA board members, the same ones that make the ultimate decisions in the agency, seem to think that an occasional ride will suffice. CTA Board Chairwoman Carol Brown thinks it's helpful if the board members have an experience with the system "but every individual is different and sometimes lifestyle doesn't fit into it". If that's that case Ms. Brown, then those that won't ride the system shouldn't be on the board making decisions on how the CTA operates.

I have the same issue with my local transit system where the vast majority of the board members and management won't ride the system yet they dictate how it is run. This just isn't a Chicago problem.

The fact that the majority of transit boards are made up of individuals that are lucky if they even know what the inside of a bus or rail vehicle looks like is rather scary. They are out of touch with what they are in charge of. It's like having a lawyer doing open heart surgery. He may know all the malpractice laws but it doesn't mean he knows how to repair a clogged artery. The transit board of directors is much the same. You have people on it that may have specific specialities (such as financial laws) but it doesn't mean that they understand how a transit system needs to be run.

The linked story goes to Google's news page. Click on the link from there to view the source story at the Chicago Tribune.

Monday, March 5, 2007

PAT management a big part of its problem

Pittsburgh PA - In the ongoing saga of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT), the Pittsburgh Business Times has two reports (story 1 story 2) regarding PAT's fiscal crisis and how management has greatly contributed to it.

The big problem is that PAT's management, especially it's upper executives, have perks that even some Fortune 500 companies don't have. The extravagance of these taxpayer funded management perks has helped to literally bankrupt Pittsburgh's transit system.

An audit performed by Pennsylvania State Attorney General Jack Wagner (D) provided solid proof of massive waste in PAT's management, something that PAT officials have long denied. Most of this waste came in terms of lavish pension benefits which created a $28.4 million dollar shortfall yet no attempts were made to curtail the taxpayer funded outlays.

Then, shortly after Wagner's announcement, PAT's Executive Director Steve Bland and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato held a press conference to announce a plan to curtail the pension benefits to save between $5 and $6 million. They both claim in various other news reports that this plan was being worked on long before Wagner's audit but I seriously doubt it. Given that the pension plan has been under media attention for several years now and the standard reply to questions was that there wasn't anything wrong, their plan was more than likely whipped up within the past few weeks.

While the list of items being changed looks impressive, it's not enough. PAT management will still have better benefits on the public dime than many private companies of similar size have in the free market. The simple fact that all this is payed for by the taxpayer, PAT needs to be frugal with the money. This is something that PAT seems not to be able to accomplish given that it sees taxpayer money as free money to waste.

I award Pennsylvania State Attorney General Jack Wagner a Laurel for finally being the first politician that put the blame for PAT's fiscal crisis where it belongs, directly on PAT's self-indulgent and financially abusive management. While a few other politicians have pointed fingers at management, it was mostly rhetoric. Wagner backs his claim with proof which has PAT's management scrambling to finally deal with the issue.

Pittsburgh politicians want to boot buses (again)

Pittsburgh PA - Every 10 years or so, some clown from the Pittsburgh City Circus (Council) comes up with some plan to boot buses off the streets the Downtown area. This time the honor of the "let's kill off transit" proposal goes to City Councilman William Peduto (D) who wants to get buses off the streets in the Downtown core. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports this in a story on two candidates running for the position of Mayor.

Peduto offered his "vision" of Pittsburgh which was loaded with transportation plans. Of course there was the usual plan of linking Oakland to Downtown with some form of expensive rail line but what stood out was his plan to get the buses off the streets of Downtown.

His plan would have buses just enter and immediately turn back without going deeper into town. This would result in instant lawsuits against the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT), especially by disabled groups, who depend on the buses going deeper into town. Short turn routes were tried off and on over the years as well and failed dismally. Even though Pittsburgh's central core is relatively small, dumping people off on the outskirts of one side of town when they need to be on the other will not fly well.

Of course Peduto fails to deal with the true problem of congestion in the downtown core which is cars and trucks.

Current Mayor, Luke Ravenstahl (D), also has transportation visions. Again, some form of rail link between Oakland and Downtown although he is being purposely vague on his answers.

Both candidates for the mayor position want to use rail as a development tool rather than a transportation tool and neither proposed a direct route which is needed. That's a disaster in the making and is another way of saying, "I want to hike your taxes sky high". They'll have to if they use a rail line for development purposes, especially in this business unfriendly area of the country.

Let's look at a key point here. PAT can't afford what they have now and these two bozo's want to saddle the agency with even more expensive toys as well as drive off the already declining bus ridership.

All I can say is that from what I have seen of the "vision" both have for the area's public transit system, they are determined to destroy it.