Friday, July 6, 2007

Port Authority announces an additional 10% cut in service

Pittsburgh PA - Port Authority announced today its plan to eliminate 34 bus and rail routes, eliminate Saturday and/or Sunday service on 18 others and reduce service on 65 additional routes as part of a 10 percent service reduction scheduled to take effect September 2, 2007.

The service reduction was one of the assumptions in Port Authority’s Fiscal Year 2008 Operating Budget, which includes a $44.6 million deficit to be offset with funds previously designated for capital purposes.

The 10 percent service reduction, which will not only affect 117 of Port Authority’s 185 routes but also result in 174 layoffs and close the Harmar Division, will be rescinded if the State Legislature approves additional funding for Pennsylvania’s transit providers.

The timing of today’s announcement coincides with the notification of affected employees as required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act and the presentation of the September 2 service plan to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 29 as required by their respective labor contracts.

The announcement of these measures comes three weeks after Port Authority instituted a 15 percent service reduction that eliminated 30 routes, reduced service on 104 weekday routes and resulted in 203 layoffs – the largest one-time service reduction in the Authority’s 43-year history.

"We remain hopeful that the transportation funding crisis in Pennsylvania will be addressed by the legislature, and we continue to work diligently toward achieving that goal," said Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Steve Bland. "But we must prepare our customers and our employees for the possibility that new funding will not be available.

"Should this service reduction go into effect in September, it will reduce transit options in Allegheny County to unthinkable levels. It will result in significant ridership losses, estimated to be at least 11 percent; it will devastate those customers who will be unable to get to or from work; and it will harm our local economy and further erode our competitiveness as a region."

Among the routes eliminated in this plan are 3L Creighton-Lower Burrell Express, 3M Tarentum-Natrona Express, 6C Spring Garden, 11C Perry Highway, 13B Babcock Express, 13G Thompson Run Express, 13J Franklin Park Express, 18C Bellevue-Union Avenue Express, 21B Kenmawr, 21D Kennedy, 29E Millers Run, 37A Mt. Lebanon-McFarland, 41C Cedar Boulevard, 42M Mt. Lebanon Short (rail), 42S Penn Park rail trips, 46H Pleasant Hills, 51D Churchview, 51E West Mifflin-Jefferson, 55D West Run-Brierly Lane, 55E Whitaker-West Mifflin, 60P Port Vue-Liberty, 63A North Braddock Express, 63B Rankin Express, 67E Greensburg Pike, 69A Forbes, 75A Monroeville Shopper, 75D Penn Hills-Monroeville, 77C Shadyside, 78E Penn Hills-East Vue Express, 79A Blackridge, 84B Oakland Loop, CO Coraopolis Flyer, E Elizabeth Flyer, G Greensburg Pike Flyer and T Trafford Flyer.

Routes with Saturday service eliminated include 24A Crafton-Presston, 36D Westwood, 46K Beltzhoover-Knoxville-Bon Air, 51B Spencer, 53F Homestead-Lincoln Place, 67F Trafford, 74A Homewood-Squirrel Hill, 94A Stanton Heights and LP Lincoln Park Flyer.

Routes with Sunday service eliminated include 1D Mt. Royal, 6A Troy Hill, 11E Fineview, 21F Presston-Kenmawr, 25A Robinson-Moon-Coraopolis, 35A South Park, 46K Beltzhoover-Knoxville-Bon Air, 56E Greenfield, 67F Trafford, 74A Homewood-Squirrel Hill, 75B Pitcairn-East McKeesport, 89A Garfield Heights, 94A Stanton Heights and LP Lincoln Park Flyer.

Port Authority continues to plan for a fare increase, its first in more than five years, to go into effect on January 1, 2008. Neither the fare structure nor the amount of the increase has yet been determined.

(Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

MARTA being pushed to waste money

Atlanta GA - Political and business leaders are pushing for MARTA to move from their current headquarters, built in 1987, to a run down section of town in the name of development.

Many MARTA board members are on board this idea even though MARTA will stand to lose millions of dollars. "A new MARTA office tower could act as an anchor to clean up the area", said the Rev. Walter Kimbrough, MARTA's board president. He then adds, "MARTA is in a position to provide leadership to that cause". Based on what Rev. Kimbrough?

This whole plan comes on the heels of ideas to revitalize the Five Points area of Atlanta. While MARTA is struggling both operationally and financially, the idea that public transit magically spurs massive development rears its ugly head once again. The area already has a major rail transit hub which didn't save the neighborhood. I just can't grasp how MARTA wasting millions of dollars to move its headquarters to Five Points will suddenly turn things around.

Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), the Atlanta business group which is actually an activist group for Atlanta businesses, is pushing hard for this as are the local politicians. They all fail to comprehend the cost to the transit system which is having many problems. They are looking though rose colored glasses and seeing a massive revitalization if MARTA moves to Five Points. My alarms go off whenever I see the word Progress in a group's name. 99% of the time it turns out to be a left-wing group and their push for this plan told me all I need to know about CAP.

What these groups and individuals don't (and won't) tell you is that all this revitalization that they see in their vision comes at a huge price to the taxpayers. Besides the millions that MARTA will have to shell out to rehabilitate a building to move into, the other development will only occur after billions of dollars of taxpayer money are sunk into sweetheart deals for developers. Hell, they could do that now without making MARTA move but that's too easy.

This situation shows how ignorant the MARTA Board of Directors, politicians and activist groups really are. Transit everywhere is having major problems and these boneheads want to compound the problem because they have a Utopian vision of tree lined streets and a waiting list for all the people that will want to come to Five Points if they can just get MARTA to move its headquarters there.

The MARTA Board of Directors, Central Atlanta Progress as well as the various politicians supporting this unneeded plan to further compound the problems for MARTA each earn a Lance.

MARTA to review operations

Atlanta GA - After 25 years, the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA) has decided to do an in-depth look at their bus and rail operations. From routings to just about everything else that it takes to provide service is going to be looked at. MARTA hopes to retool its operations to meet current times starting with a $1.8 billion dollar study.

While reviewing operations is something all systems need to do, such an undertaking should have been happening all along. This situation is all too common in the transit industry and has been a major complaint of mine for decades. Every few years at least, operations should be looked at to ensure things are running smoothly. By waiting 25 years or more, as some systems have done, your talking an expensive undertaking that can result in dramatic changes rather than gradual changes.

$1.8 billion dollars isn't chump change, even in government circles. Much of what is to be studied could have easily been done cheaper in-house if it had been done on a regular and timely basis over the past 25 years. It does often take an outsider to point out the flaws in an operation however and even if studies were done every few years by a consultant, it would end up being cheaper than having to do it when the system is in crisis.

"The system's unwieldy tangle of bus routes — some still following the paths of old trolley lines — is difficult for even longtime Atlantans to grasp." A common theme among many systems that insisted on hanging onto historical routings rather than move them to meet the changing demographics of an area. This single issue alone, if corrected, could greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of transit service.

Then there is the other common plague of many cities, rail maintenance that has been deferred over the years due to the excessive cost, inherent in any rail operation, has come back to haunt the operation. You can call for better maintenance in the rail operations however, that money has to come from somewhere and public transit budgets are already stretched to the breaking point, MARTA included.

While MARTA should get a Lance for spending $1.8 billion dollars on a one-time study that should have been occurring on a regular basis, I'll award them a Laurel for actually waking up and realizing their transit system is in trouble, needs fixed and starting the long overdue process.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Transit Oriented Development a flop?

Los Angeles CA - Transit systems and cities spend billions of taxpayer dollars on real estate development. They cite the mantra that Transit Oriented Development (TOD) will encourage transit use, allow for development of decaying neighborhoods and bring in more than is spent. That doesn't appear to be happening and finally there is something being said about it.

In Los Angeles, the LA Times did a review of Los Angeles area TOD projects over the past several months. The conclusion was that most who live in TOD projects don't use public transit for a variety of reasons. I can't locate the main story but found the LA Times blog site which has some of this information. It may be information on an upcoming story but the fact remains, most TOD residents weren't using transit.

This is something I have long known anyway so it came as no surprise to me. What did surprise me was the indication of how many shunned transit even though TOD is supposed to be designed to encourage transit use.

With many transit systems focusing more and more on TOD, entire departments are being set up to plan, design and administer such developments. This is taking money away from where it needs to be which is service. SamTrans has designed an entire TOD community at taxpayer expense while at the same time complaining it needs more money to run service.

TOD is fickle. Many TOD projects are failing, not just in attracting ridership but in the whole concept. The build it and they will come philosophy just doesn't work. Costs are much higher than standard development and generally are in higher tax districts. The residents being attracted to these developments tend to be more affluent and far less likely to ride public transit yet billions are being pumped into various TOD projects across the nation. In addition, the real estate bubble is at the point it will burst soon and prices will bottom out leaving the taxpayer holding the bag.

In many ways, TOD it is just another excuse for the politicians can pick the taxpayer's pocket. It also isn't helping public transit as money that can be and should be used for providing decent service is being diverted to real estate development.

While some of the projects have worked, many more haven't even come close to living up to the promises made. With the fact that the vast majority of TOD's are done using taxpayer money, either directly or through sweetheart deals, the taxpayers need to put a stop to the waste.

The urbanization activists that push for TOD are as bad as the pro-rail crowd for spinning the truth. Much of their banter is based on half-truths, misinformation and outright lies all spun to create yet another Utopian vision of perfection that the spendthrift politicians and government bureaucrats bite on.

I am glad to see something finally that gives the opposite viewpoint to what has become an accepted consensus. TOD isn't the Utopian vision that will bring throngs of people onto the transit system and make the area a wonderful place to live.

Monday, July 2, 2007

PAT's coach shortage is of its own making

Pittsburgh PA - The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is still experiencing coach shortages, even after a 15% reduction in service, which is adversely affecting service. Often routes run late because buses are not available for the driver and they need to wait until a bus returns to the garage from another run.

Now in PAT's infinite wisdom, they are retiring many buses that run just fine. At one garage, 8 of these buses sit with orders not to run them.  Even when drivers are standing around waiting for a bus so they can get their run started, those buses are officially off limits for service (although one or two may sneak out). It's much the same story at other PAT garages as well.

PAT has a long history of coach shortages. What is infuriating is that they usually are shoving running buses out the back door to be scrapped while they whine about not being able to meet service.

There have been various reasons over the years as to why PAT has had coach shortages. This time it's mostly because the newer buses are laid up with trivial problems as well as problems from advancing technologies that just aren't ready for prime time.

While PAT is crying the blues for more funding, cutting service and raising fares, they are also driving off riders by the late buses. Due to the coach shortage, it is a sin that PAT is disposing of buses that run and not allowing some to be run when they don't have enough operable buses to meet the service.

It is just one more thing that shows how out of touch PAT management is. If I ran the show, I wouldn't be disposing of operable buses when there aren't enough buses to meet service. All PAT is achieving by doing so is to further alienate the ridership and helping to keep public transit in the downward spiral in Pittsburgh.

This is not something PAT wants to be known and is rarely on the news. The information comes from various PAT employees. It is information that needs to be known by the ridership.

Short takes

These are just a few stories that I have comments about but don't warrant a full article.

Norfolk VA - I'd love to know how much it actually cost to choose a name for Norfolk's proposed LRT system.

NYC NY - Mayor Bloomberg not only wants to tax people coming into the city, he's going to tax them to leave the city as well. Talk about wanting to make your city visitor unfreindly. All it will do is raise costs for everyone and won't reduce congestion one bit.

San Francisco CA - Clueless Mayor Gavin Newsom, the same one that wants to make MUNI a fare free system and won't increase funding to cover the fare loss, was beseiged at a meeting where he hoped to plug his Central Subway Plan. Instead he fielded complaints about MUNI's problems. Newsom is the last person I'd trust to solve MUNI's problems as he's been out to make more problems for them.

Washington DC - APTA's press release about how 48% of the people want to take public transit when visiting another city has more spin than an amusement park ride. Even though the poll results had environmentalism low on the list, the rest of the press release goes into the long failed marketing effort of pushing transit as the environmental choice. The vast majority of people riding transit don't give a rat's rear end about "green" choices, they just want to get where they're going.