The story was brought to light when Post-Gazette transportation writer Joe "Softball" Grata apparently found out that former PAT Executive Director and former Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey (R) had such a permit.
This story does bring up an important issue regarding the use of the busways. The issue is that the busways should be for buses and not for politicians and selected government agencies. The method in which PAT hands out and regulates the busway permits is ripe for abuse since there are no official regulations regarding the permits.
When built, the busways were supposed to be used for transit vehicles as well as the PAT non-revenue support vehicles. Emergency vehicles such as fire, police and ambulances responding to emergencies could also use the busway. Permits initially were issued for out of county operators to utilize the busways.
Over time, the permits began to be handed out selectively to politicians and government agencies to utilize the busways. Given the list provided in the article, the vast majority of the 73 permits should not have been issued. Most appear to be political in nature.
As there is no clear policy on who is eligible, all permits should be revoked in my opinion. Not one of the permits issued is vital for emergencies and marked vehicles responding to an emergency are already allowed to use the busway without a permit. The one rule in place is that the permit is for official business only but we all know how that goes in politics. Everything is official to them, from going to a meeting to wanting to get home after a day at work.
Roddey's permit should have been revoked when he left. There is no question about it but given PAT's reluctance to state the other individuals who hold and use the permits, it smacks of an abuse of the permits that PAT doesn't want to acknowledge.
Granted, 73 permits is a rather small number but it is still 73 people that have been given preferential treatment on the taxpayer's dime by a public agency. The politicians can sit in traffic like everyone else or hop on the bus if they want to be on the busways.
A few of the permits issued do raise flags. Why are there 4 permits for the Monroeville Police Department? What makes them so special that they need permits for unmarked cars when the East Busway isn't even in their jurisdiction? What about the other police departments that also have to have officers go into the city on business but have to sit in traffic?
Then there are the 3 PAT board members that have special permits. Why just those three?
How about the permit issued to the Federal Reserve in Pittsburgh? I'm more than sure that permit isn't for the armored truck carrying money but for one of the top management of the FRB.
PAT needs to come up with a clear policy on who gets issued permits and then keep tabs on those permits. The current method is selective and easily abused and amounts more to political pandering rather than an actual true need.
Personally I believe no special permits should be granted to any politician or agency. The only permits that should be issued should be to other transit systems for their buses. Marked emergency vehicles going to an emergency should continue to be exempted as well.
The busways are designed for bus transportation, not as a private highway for select politicians and agencies just so they don't have to sit in traffic. There is nothing that important that the select few should be granted special privileges that the rest of the public would be immediately ticketed for.