Friday, July 20, 2007

Audit on PAT offers no surprises

Pittsburgh PA - A county audit ordered by Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato showed no surprises when it came to the Port Authority of Allegheny County's (PAT) fiscal picture. Waste and inefficiency in the transit system are still present and the previous administration spent money like a drunken sailor that just came in from months at sea.

The Allegheny County Controller, Mark Patrick Flaherty, also compared PAT to 11 other comparable transit systems and PAT. While the names of the systems weren't released (I am trying to find out), PAT finished up at the bottom in most all of the categories.

Flaherty traced some of the agency's current financial woes to its "Ride Gold" program, which the authority retired in 2006. I have been saying that since the inception of the program in 1999. Former PAT head, Paul "Captain Scuttles" Skoutelas and his marketing guru Smilin' Deb followed the golden Liberal rule when the marketing program initially bombed. That rule was to just throw good money after bad and they did just that by ramping up the marketing campaign and pumping millions more into it even though it was a proven failure.

While PAT has been saddled with many long term costs over the years, waste and inefficient operations have become ingrained into the culture of the system. That is quickly draining the money needed to run service. Many things that PAT management feels are mandatory to do the job really are luxuries that can be done away with. They have management positions in place which literally were created to give someone a title along with additional perks.

The geography of the area also helps to increase costs. In order to service the various communities along a major corridor, you literally need multiple routes that converge once they begin funneling themselves into the city through the ever narrowing geographical corridors. Other cities don't have this issue but the cure many are suggesting is to turn PAT's operation into a mirror of what other cities run. That won't work well here and fails every time it has been tried.

Current PAT CEO, Steve Bland, is working on trying to eliminate some of the waste but has often focused on the wrong things. Cutting service and hiking fares isn't the way to do it. What is needed it so overhaul the administration, lay down new work rules for any new employee that is hired so that they aren't covered by the current contracts that are bleeding PAT dry but a newer contract that is more fiscally responsible as well as going back to the basics of providing service.

While Steve Bland feels the critical audit report shows PAT is on the right track now, he's wrong. Flaherty stated cutting service should be the last thing to be done yet that was among the first things Mr. Bland did. What Bland has done is help set PAT up to continue the downward trend by hacking 15% of the service before cleaning up the management's wasteful ways.

A job interview I went on once many years ago at PAT said it all. I will remember these words until the day I die. "You know too much about how transit should be run. We need someone that doesn't understand so they can be trained to do it our way".