Saturday, March 24, 2007

Some frog marching needs to occur at PAT

Pittsburgh PA - As Pennsylvania State Attorney General Jack Wagner (D) continues to dig into the finances of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT), more waste is being uncovered. Lucrative and very questionable payments to top executives continue to be uncovered which are "legal" but highly unethical.

Schemes such as buying back time from other public sector jobs and rolling that time into the PAT pension plan. Double dipping into the pension plan while being reimbursed, with interest, for the initial contribution into the plan. Excessive payments for moving expenses for the new Executive Director. $45 grand of taxpayer money to move??? Get real. Rent a U-Haul Steve and put you and your family to work carrying furniture.

If these things happened in private industry, you'd see key executives being taken to court, tried and convicted. In fact this does happen in private industry and many key executives did the frog march and are now cooling their heels in prison. It most likely won't happen in this case as the local politicians will try to bury this all to protect their personal hides.

Here are just two reports over the past few days dealing with the PAT situation (story 1 - story 2). Torrid tales of management in the public sector getting rich by raping the taxpayer. Oh, and guess what folks, most of the individuals involved in this waste are die-hard Democrats. You know, the party of the working man that always accuses the "evil" Republicans of doing these types of acts.

It's not just upper management, as well as the two former PAT Executive Directors, that needs to be taken to court over this either. The PAT Board of Directors needs to be hauled into court as well as they approved all this nonsense. Again, it probably won't happen as this is a government agency and politicians will be covering their butts.

What is truly sad about all of this is that it isn't limited to just PAT. This is a problem nationwide and extends far outside of the public transit industry. Almost every governmental agency has problems such as this. The misuse of pension plans and raiding the agency is far more common in the public sector than it is in the private sector but the liberal media focuses on the private sector as it tends to be where the "evil" Republicans are. Public sector management tends to have more Democrats in charge.

I have earned a new respect for Jack Wagner over his rabid determination to show the waste at PAT. It's not something I really expected from a Democrat. Maybe there is some hope for that party after all.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Proposal to replace SORTA being floated

Cincinnati OH - The Cincinnati Post reports on a proposal for a regional transit panel to replace the existing Southwest Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board which oversees the Cincinnati Metro.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune believes that a new panel is needed to replace SORTA, which focuses on Cincinnati, so that the entire tri-state area is covered. A daunting venture at best.

There are many problems involved in a multi-state regional system, primarily the different laws that are in place in each state. Secondly and probably more important is that you then open the agency up to accusations of favoritism of one state over another. These two issues tend to bog down multi-state operations and ultimately make the transit operation less efficient and more costly.

Dealing with different states instantly turns the process of the proposed panel that should deal with transit issues into nothing but politics. Fights over which state should benefit from funding and over revenues raised in one state being used in another state will be common. Should the smaller Northern Kentucky area and even smaller Southeastern Indiana area pay as much as Southwestern Ohio? If so, will they get the same services and if not, why should they pay more? Criticism of the board over questions like that will be common.

While I agree with Portune that SORTA is not effectively set up, his proposed regional umbrella agency will ultimately be more unwieldy and much less effective in the long term than the current SORTA set up is now.

Portune's goal is a good one, better transit that is coordinated. Much like any lofty goal however, the plan is filled with problems that will ultimately make things worse. The agency will be riddled with internal problems due to the politics of it all and that will give the new agency a public relations black eye.

In the end, it will be the rider that suffers from the politics of any multi-state regional transit board. SORTA needs looked at and streamlined but don't change it into a multi-state political boxing ring.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

...the cost continues to add up

Honolulu HI - The Honolulu Advertiser reports on yet another undisclosed cost for Mayor Mufi Hannemann's legacy rail project. A $1 million dollar study to try and determine the effects of the new rail line on city services.

First off, this study should have been done prior to approving the line. The simple fact that it isn't done yet shows how poorly planned the project is. In Mufi's rush to ram his legacy through, he didn't see much of anything except a Utopian vision through his rose colored glasses.

As I mentioned in another earlier Laurels & Lances article, charges such as this are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to nickle and diming the taxpayers with additional costs that will not show up in the total cost for the rail line. Millions more of the taxpayer's money will be spent before the first spade of dirt is turned over on the project. By the time the line is opened, billions of tax dollars will have been spent on the project which will not show on the total cost of the project since they will be considered indirect costs.

Don't think this project and the nickel and diming just effects residents of Honolulu. It effects every taxpayer in the United States. Federal money is being used and Mufi is going to try and pass this latest cost off to the Federal funding which is being applied for.

The pro-rail crowd will never acknowledge things like a $500 million line can actually costs over a billion dollars when all is said and done. They ignore the non-direct costs as though they don't exist and make excuses for direct costs that were not originally reported.

These types of projects need to be much more difficult to obtain funding for. Too many cities have already or are attempting to jump on the rail bandwagon and have no clue as to the true costs. Politicians only see a personal legacy for themselves and the pro-rail crowd spins rail as though it was a gift sent from God.

People need to wake up to reality and soon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hybrids too costly

Fort McMurray AB - I came across a news story from the Fort McMurray Today news site which I found interesting. It is basically a discussion over hybrid buses and the costs to buy and operate. It is especially interesting as this is a very small operation and one mistake can prove very costly.

The debate in Fort McMurray revolves around the recent purchase of 3 diesel buses which the city opted for rather than purchasing 1 hybrid bus and 1 diesel. Mayor Melissa Blake correctly stated "In the end, you simply can’t justify the hybrid bus when we can get two (regular) buses for the same price". However, Councilor Carolyn Slade insists that the hybrid would save money in the long term.

Sorry Ms. Slade, the hybrid won't do anything except raise your long term costs to operate, especially given the Canadian tendency to hang onto buses for 20 to 30 years. The current hybrid technology still is in its infancy and has not been proven over a long period. Considering the fact that most manufacturers stop producing parts for buses now after 10 years, how in the world are you going to get the parts for it when the bus is 20 plus years old? Many buses today in the United States (including those manufactured by Canadian firms) wear out before their 12 years old and many get scrapped because you can't get the electronics for them any longer.

This rush to jump on the environmentalist bandwagon by transit systems is going to prove costly in the long term, especially for small systems like Fort McMurray. Clean diesel technology works well and is far less costly in both the short and long term for purchasing and maintaining. Replacing Fort McMurray's diesel fleet with hybrids won't make any difference at all in the air quality but it will hurt the finances of the transit system from the purchase date all the way through the life cycle of the bus.

In addition, hybrids actually cause more damage to the environment to manufacture and dispose of than does the lowly diesel. That's a dirty little secret that the enviro-weenies that are trying to price public transit out of existence don't want you to know.

As far as efficiency, the much touted mileage and fuel savings are greatly exaggerated. You save more petroleum fuel by switching to bio-diesel than you do by paying for hybrid technology. Not to say bio-diesel is the best choice out there as it has its issues as well but it is far cheaper in the long term than buying a hybrid bus and having to maintain it.

Mayor Melissa Blake earns a Laurel for taking her position as the steward of the taxpayer's money seriously and making the right choice. Those 3 diesel buses will serve the city better as it will allow more people to benefit and it cost less in both the short and long term than rushing out to jump on the enviro-bandwagon with hybrid buses.