Saturday, June 9, 2007

Pittsburgh's routes may be changing

Pittsburgh PA - The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) announced yesterday an initiative called "Connect '09" which may bring some sweeping changes to how transit is provided in the Pittsburgh area.

Starting with the introduction of smart card fare collection technology, the Connect '09 initiative is ultimately aimed at overhauling how the entire transit system is structured. Data collected from smart card usage will give PAT a better idea of its customer's riding habits claims PAT Chief Executive, Steve Bland.

One thing that is funny is that many of the things that Bland states have been being said for decades and totally ignored by PAT. Suddenly PAT discovers what needs to be done and acts as though it has never been thought of before. Wrong Steve, much of this has been said from long before PAT even took control of Pittsburgh's public transit system. I know personally that I've been waving the banner claiming PAT needed to look at transit in a new way for decades.

The Connect '09 plan also can be used to integrate the surrounding counties into a single transit system with either a direct agency or as an umbrella agency. That fact was heavily downplayed at the press conference by PennDOT Secretary, Allen Biehler as well as Mr. Bland.

Now before any catcalls about how PAT can afford this, it is being paid for through a Federal grant and has no effect on the service cuts. The cuts would happen with or without this program. One side note however is that the grant only pays for this to be used on the buses and PAT will have to come up with other forms of funding to pay for the implementation of the smart card technology on the rail vehicles.

While Steve Bland has earned himself and PAT a few Lances since his arrival, I must give him a Laurel for finally acknowledging that PAT needs to overhaul its route structure. It took long enough for someone in a position to do something to actually shed light on what us common folk have been pointing out for decades now.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Seattle group forms to fight LRT

Seattle WA - A new advocacy group has formed to oppose Sound Transit's rail expansion plans. Called the Washington Traffic Institute (WTI), the group calls into question the claims made by Sound Transit and other pro-rail advocacy groups as to cost as well as reducing traffic congestion.

I was actually surprised to read about the group in an article in the Seattle Times. Usually these types of groups that go against the "popular flow" get little media coverage.

The WTI was formed to fight the $37 billion Roads and Transit measure that is set for the fall ballot. Sound Transit needs this measure passed to expand its rail transit network.

Although the WTI website is a little spartan currently, it does put up some numbers that show how the costs are skyrocketing and that the costs don't justify the projected ridership numbers. It was a welcome site to me in a world of pro-rail spin which ignores such things.

One of the prime reasons stated by Sound Transit for pushing for the expanded rail transit network is that it will reduce traffic congestion. That is a total fallacy. There is not one study of any LRT line in North America which can show a direct correlation between a rail line and reduced traffic congestion. On the contrary, most studies show even more traffic congestion once a rail line is opened.

That fact is downplayed and often outright ignored by the "damn the costs, full speed ahead" pro-rail crowd in their rush to slap rail lines in as many places as they can. There needs to be more groups like the WTI which want a serious approach to improving the transportation in a city. Rail isn't the answer in the vast majority of the cases yet it is sold as the Saviour of city by the pro-rail crowd.

Rail has become the new way to pick the taxpayer's pockets. As I have often stated in numerous Laurels & Lances articles, rail isn't being used for transportation these days as much as it is being used for political and personal legacy reasons as well as trying to steer development to where the political leaders want it to go.

If cities really want to reduce traffic congestion, they'll fix what they have in place already. Adding more while leaving an existing under performing operation in tact does nothing except create a fiscal black hole that sucks down taxpayer money.

Let's face a simple fact. You are never going to get rid of the private automobile. The best you can hope for is to make transit attractive to the car owners and hope to get some of them to switch. To do that, public transit needs to first go back to the basics of providing service. Bells and whistles such as new rail lines just don't cut it in the long term if the basics of providing service aren't in place or need improvements.

Rail has its place. That is something I don't argue with. Where I have the problem is that rail is being sold to the public as the greatest invention since flush toilets, complete with a long list of dubious claims of positives while the negatives are ignored.

Rail isn't the answer in every situation. In most cases, simple service adjustments on the existing bus system will do far more, and at a much cheaper price, than slapping a rail line down for the sake of having a rail line.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Chastain pounds the rail drums

Kansas City MO - Pro-rail advocate, Clay Chastain, is pounding the drums again to get his rail plan in place in Kansas City. For some strange reason, Chastain seems oblivious to the fact that Kansas City can't just jump ahead of the waiting list for Federal money to build his precious rail line.

Chastain, a Bedford Virginia resident, seems intent on trying to saddle Kansas City Missouri residents with a light rail plan that the city just can't afford. He loves to claim the voters overwhelmingly want his plan when, based on numerous articles and letters to the editor by residents, that really isn't the case.

The truth of the matter is that many Kansas City voters were simply confused, overwhelmed and completely uninformed of what they were voting for. Of the various comments I've seen in KC newspapers and radio/TV sites as well as comments sent to me, many people thought they were voting for KC to look into a rail plan for the future. They were largely unaware that what they were voting for was to implement Chastain's personal legacy rail line immediately.

That really is the voter's fault and they deserve what they get however, the ballot question was reported to also be rather confusing and misleading. That doesn't really surprise me but the voters still should have informed themselves and it was easy to do with all the coverage on the rail proposal.

Chastain's comments in the linked article also give me further proof that this is all about his personal legacy rather than the good of the city. Of the item's listed, "My light rail plan" comes above anything else. He really wants his name on a brass plaque along the line for posterity.

While Chastain does mention that there needs to be a bus funding plan, it falls much further down on his list. Even with his proposed eighth-cent sales tax to cover bus operations, that money will be siphoned off to pay to operate his rail line, complete with gondola ride which in other news stories he insists must be included or he'll sue the city.

Chastain refuses to look at the whole picture. He's so desperate to get his rail plan built that he really doesn't care if he turns the city into a ghost town. Federal money will not be coming to build it as the Feds have already made clear that KC can't jump to the head of the funding line. I doubt the State will rush to pay for it. That means KC residents will have to pick up the entire tab for Chastain's Folly one way or another. By building it or paying to cover the city costs to defend against Chastain's threatened law suits to force the line to be built. Just imagine the sky high taxes and the rush to move to greener pastures where taxes are lower.

Clay, here's a Lance for your "Damn the costs when my legacy is at stake" attitude. You've earned it.