Friday, May 11, 2007

Transit is important as long as someone else pays

Pittsburgh PA - The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports on Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato's (D) latest pledge to not use money the county has to help bail out the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT).

What is troubling over Onorato's actions of late is that he is talking out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand he states that public transit is important then on the other hand he's trying to weasel out of the paltry small amount of funding the county does provide to PAT.

The latest move is putting arts above needed and important infrastructure. The Regional Asset Development tax that was saddled onto the taxpayers of Allegheny County is designed to be used for the improvement of the area. Well that was what it was sold to the public as at least. What Onorato refuses to understand is that without a viable public transit system, the city and county will continue to die.

Arts and culture will not save the area. Jobs will and to get many to those jobs, you need a viable transit system. Hell, to go see a play funded by the RAD tax, many take transit because it's easier and cheaper than fighting to get an overpriced parking spot in town.

While PAT has its problems and needs to clean up its act, Onorato is doing everything he can to shove the problem onto everyone else. He supports PAT as long as someone else picks up the tab for it. Another typical politician.

What Onorato needs to understand is that more of the burden of providing service will be shifted back to the local government. The State Legislature had made that more than clear yet Onorato continues to try and shift the small amount it pays onto the state. All this move does is keep the funding crisis alive so that no resolution will happen.

Don't forget, Onorato, along with many other Democrat politicians in the Pittsburgh area, is trying to saddle PAT with a new trolley line it can't afford to operate. He wants the line because he "supports" transit yet all his actions to date have shown the exact opposite.

When PAT announced the original route cut plan, he was adamant that the original plan go through which would have literally isolated entire communities from transit service. He kept claiming he supports transit but was doing his best to ensure the destruction of it by insisting the original hack & slash plan go through as is. Luckily saner heads prevailed and a much more palatable, albeit still bitter, plan was adopted.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Democrats get it wrong again

Washington DC - Democrats are poised to further screw up mass transit across the nation through their latest boondoggle known as the "PROGRESS Act" (H.R. 1300). As usual, they have good intentions but gave absolutely no thought to actual long term costs that they would saddle public transit operators with. A typical move. The Hill has an article by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) regarding the PROGRESS Act that he introduced.

The big problem is that the PROGRESS Act provides a one time stimulus grant to transit systems to expand service. The Democrats (as usual) fail to understand that these same transit systems can't afford to run what they have now, even if everything was a peak capacity on every trip. What good is expanding service on a one time grant when in the following year, the transit system can't afford to run the expanded service?

While I agree that public transit is important in playing a key role in America's energy independence, the Democrats (once again) fail to acknowledge that you have to get what you have working first. Expanding service based on a one time grant that will run out after a year will only further cause the transit systems across this country to collapse even more.

Also, if the Democrats want energy independence, let drilling occur in the United States instead of blocking it and keeping us dependent on foreign oil.

Another part of this PROGRESS Act is that it it will "create a bipartisan National Energy Security Commission to develop consensus national goals on energy". Excuse me while I laugh. When Liberal Democrats start talking about a consensus the only thing I can think of is Al Gore and his "consensus" on global warming which, as each day passes, is shown to be a big lie. There is no consensus on the man-made global warming except by the environmentalists that have a political agenda to control the throttle of the United States economy and put us back in the dark ages.

If the Democrats really want to help public transit as they always claim, they'd find a way to fund it properly, including the extremely expensive but completely unfunded mandates they've slapped on the public transit systems over the years which is driving up the cost to provide service.

They won't though. All politicians, especially the transit loving Democrats, are nothing but lip service. They're great at sounding concerned when it comes to transit service but they've done everything they can to drive up the cost of providing that service.

Steny Hoyer, you earned a Lance. While you meant well, your bill just doesn't cut it. Good intentions is not going to improve anything. Your bill is nothing but another feel good measure that will do nothing beside further strain the transit systems while you get to feel powerful for introducing it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Transit fails to hold ridership

San Francisco CA - While there was a great improvement in ridership numbers following the I-80/I-580 connector ramp disaster, transit systems are failing to hold onto the ridership surge. The Insidebayarea news site reports on the slip in ridership numbers even though the melted interchange has not been repaired.

Many are drifting back to their cars even though they are more likely to sit in traffic. This trend of commuters going back to their cars is dumbfounding the public transit advocates who are off in their own little world when it comes to reality.

The problems in keeping the new ridership are many and the main problem is that public transit is not designed to haul everyone. It never has been nor can it be made to.

This is not meant to be critical of the transit operations in the Bay area. They've done a commendable job in adapting to the influx of new riders however the simple fact that bus or rail service is not anywhere as flexible as the private car needs to be understood.

In such events where there is a sudden surge of ridership, the transit system will be very lucky it retains 10% of the initial flow of new riders after 6 months. The reason is that public transit is designed to flow into a central business core. With urban sprawl and businesses relocating outside of traditionally higher tax base areas, transit systems can no longer compete successfully.

"All you need to do is add more routes and the rider can transfer to get where they're going" say the transit advocates. Wrong. Each forced transfer to get a rider to their ultimate destination reduces the chance of them becoming a regular rider by more than 50% and greatly increases the cost of providing service. Riders that have to transfer more than once to reach their destination are 80% more likely to avoid public transit as long as they have alternatives open to them such as a car.

In general, most of the choice riders are willing to make some adjustments to their travel plans as long as they can get quickly from point A to point B. This usually works fine when dealing with suburbs to the downtown core but even then the system must make itself somewhat flexible by providing sufficient service for the rider to make choices. I used to live in an area where I had 1 bus a day. One trip in the morning and one in the afternoon. If I missed that single inbound or outbound trip, I was screwed.

Another big problem for public transit is the modern trends in the business industry. Many companies are no longer just 9 to 5 but have a 24 hour work force with staggered hours. This makes it far easier for a person to justify taking a car to work rather than transit.

As mentioned earlier, businesses that are relocating outside of the higher taxed urban core play into the transit problems also. Most transit systems, even those with rail, have very poor reverse commuting. In other words, a reverse rush hour.

Transit advocates need to understand that they are never going to get 100% of the people to ride. The automobile will always be a competitor that will win out when push comes to shove. The best transit systems can hope for is to retain as many choice riders as they can. That is done by the basics which is providing clean, safe, reliable and convenient service to as many riders as they can. This is something many systems are doing a poor job at.

The transit advocates need to stop their hand-wringing about the private automobile and concentrate on getting what is in place already for public transit in their area working. I doubt that will happen as most advocates are too busy trying to saddle transit systems with expensive and unneeded transit projects rather than dealing with the basics.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

MUNI assaults increasing

San Francisco CA - The site had an interesting report on assaults against MUNI employees. The issue of assaults against transit personnel is something that effects all transit systems and the problem seems to be increasing.

MUNI employees (drivers, station attendants, etc.), experienced an average of 71.4 attacks a year for the last 5 years. That number is actually low as many assaults are not reported. Assaults often not reported are slapping, throwing things, spitting and yelling at the operator. These types of non-reported assaults often happen multiple times a day in every system.

The same trend is occurring at most every major transit system and there is no sign that the assaults will begin to drop off anytime soon. On the contrary, it appears the number of assaults on transit personnel will continue to increase.

The only reports the public usually hears of are on the severe end of the scale. In a few cases over the years, I've found that even these severe side of the scale reports from the Liberal media lean toward blaming the operator rather than the "innocent" rider who started the confrontation. I recall a recent story out of Canada where a driver was dragged out of the bus and beat up. The dyed-in-the-wool Liberal reporter asked in their report what the driver did to provoke such a response as though the peaceful rider that beat up the driver would never do something like that unless the operator provoked it.

Many states have a law similar to what California has where assaults on a transit worker are considered a felony. The problem is that the courts and District Attorneys often reduce charges or dismiss the case all together. This literally make the felony law a feel good measure that does little and puts the transit drivers at greater risk in doing their job.

Those who follow the transit industry will remember when on-board transit security cameras first came out and were being put on buses across the country. Unions complained about them invading the privacy of its members but over the past several years, the unions have done an about face and are demanding security cameras be put on transit vehicles to help protect the operators since the courts won't.

Management also doesn't often support the operators, even when the taped security video clearly shows the operator did nothing wrong. Management is so concerned that they'll be labeled anti-rider by the various activist groups and scare off riders if they start prosecuting the riders that assault the operators that they help put the operators (as well as other passengers) at an ever increasing risk.

Even back in the past when people were more civil toward each other, being a transit operator wasn't an easy job. Today the operators literally risk their lives with some of the nut cases that ride. Until the transit systems and courts start getting tough with the riders that violate the law and assault transit personnel, the risk will continue to increase.

While there are some bad apples in the transit system, the vast majority of the assaults originate from the rider that was never taught how to behave when they were growing up. I have witnessed more than a few of these operator-rider incidents in my life and every one of them was caused by a rider that was in the wrong.

The politicians don't help matters either. Madison Wisconsin operators were screaming for security cameras to be installed on the buses for safety reasons and that was met with politicians debating the expenditure for over a year (yet they can come up with money to study building an unneeded streetcar line). Detroit Michigan operators and riders have been demanding that police be assigned to ride the buses for over a year and the politicians keep voting it down because of the expense yet are talking at the same time about rail lines.

It's time to knuckle down on the misbehaving rider and lower the risk that the operators and other riders that know how to behave have to take. While I'm not known for advocating for spending more money on transit, operator and rider security is one area that must be addressed. It's not cheap to do but it is something that must be done if you want a transit system these days.