Friday, August 3, 2007

Transit Funding vs. Other Public Projects

Atlanta GA - Susan Gast had a very interesting article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding how the funding of public transit is viewed compared to funding for other government projects.

She is correct in her assumption that public transit operating funding is dimly viewed by politicians. In her article she questions why politicians often say that public transit doesn't benefit everyone so it shouldn't be supported while items like parks, roads and other infrastructure are (and let's not forget the $10,000 taxpayer funded BBQ pit at a senior center if your in Pennsylvania).

She does miss this fact though: Funding for transit capital projects which do little beside raise the cost of providing service is quite easy to obtain and politicians fight to get in line to hand that money out.

A big part of the answer she seeks comes from political legacy. Build a park, create a new highway and the politician, after they bite the dust and often before, can get a shiny brass plaque with their name on it for all of eternity proclaiming they were the ones responsible for this park or that road, etc.

Her example of Gwinnett County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau's comments reminded me of many politicians I have come across. They all have the same disdain for transit and fail to understand its benefits. They only embrace transit if they think it can further their political career or shut up some noisy detractors of their work.

The excuse that public transit is expensive and used by few is just that, an excuse. I pay for schools I don't use and know many others that don't have children to use the public school system but we still have to fork over money for the indoctrination centers. I pay for roads in the boondocks that are lucky they have 5 cars a day on them and I know I'll never have to use that road. I know many that haven't been to a public park in decades, including myself. Yet these all get funded with a smile by the politicians who proclaim "everyone benefits". Hardly.

A viable public transit system is an important part to the city economy. Without a good system, you will lose business. Not just a few lost sales from people that can't get to town to buy from the stores but entire businesses that pack up and move to somewhere that their capital is treated better. Far more people benefit from a viable transit system than just those that ride. Politicians are either too stupid to understand that fact or so dedicated to creating something they can hang a brass plaque on with their name that they ignore it.

Susan's article is very thought provoking and brings up an excellent point. After reading it, I was already going through the list of projects that my local and state politicians are rushing to give money to and very few of the favored projects benefited everyone. In fact, many were self-serving and benefited only the politicians and a handful of their contributors.

The "it must benefit everyone" argument is always applied to operating funding for transit by the politicians and rarely to anything else they rush out to give money to. While public transit does need to do a lot of house cleaning to make itself more efficient, it benefits far more people, including those that don't use the system, than the neighborhood taxpayer funded meth clinic or a new taxpayer funded road into a private housing development.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

PAT is still finding new ways to waste money

Pittsburgh PA - A columnist piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review really should be a news item. Columnist Eric Heyl informed the readers on Friday that the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is still finding new ways to waste money and offering feeble attempts at justifying the waste.

What is it this time? Another attempt at nickel and diming the money needed to run service so it can be spent on anything but providing service. PAT placed an ad in the Pittsburgh City Paper for $1,400 which is little more than political butt kissing using money that is needed to run the service.

The full page ad declared in bold face letters "THANKS TO THE LEADERS IN HARRISBURG, WE CAN KEEP YOU MOVING."

It then goes on with "We'd like to thank Gov. Rendell, the lawmakers in Harrisburg, and all those who have worked together on the funding crisis," the ad states. "Their hard work and vision have made it possible for us to continue to offer our riders the dependable transit they deserve."

PAT's spinmeister, Judi McNeil, went into high speed spin mode to defend the ad saying that it was to publicly thank the politicians for their efforts in passing the transportation bill. She was also quick to add that the money for the ad came from advertising revenues and not taxpayer money.

I'm sorry Judi, the ad is a waste of money and shows exactly what I have been saying for years. PAT will find any excuse to spend money on anything but providing service. These politicians don't need to be thanked for doing their job. The same could have been done for free at the PAT press conference where they announced the funding deal. Instead, PAT just had to find a way to waste more money so they went out and bought a newspaper ad in a free tabloid style paper that is used more for lining bird cages and paper training the family puppy than it is used for reading.

Also Judi, that advertising revenue is supposed to go toward the operating fund. Whether you think so or not, the taxpayer still has to foot the bill for that useless advertisement since that is $1,400 more the taxpayer must sink into the system to keep service on the street.

While $1,400 isn't even considered chump change in the grand scheme of the total amount needed to run PAT, it clearly shows how the mind set of waste is ingrained into the transit system's administration. This is just like the $700 or so worth of dinosaur books PAT bought for the board of director's children several years ago. It is something to simply waste money on and does absolutely nothing to keep service on the street.

PAT earns itself yet another Lance for continuing to waste money and I'm tossing in another Lance for PAT's mouthpiece, Judi McNeil, for trying to once again defend the waste.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pennsylvania eliminates senior ride restrictions

Johnstown PA - The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat has a story regarding a change in the Pennsylvania State law regarding the times Seniors are allowed to ride for free on the buses.

Prior to the law changing, seniors could not use their transit identification card during rush hours. The CamTran general manager, Rose Lucey-Noll indicated that was to spare larger operations the problem of over-crowding during rush hour. Actually she is partially wrong. The original law was set up in part for that but it also dealt with the payout to the transit systems from the State Lottery fund which funds the free ride program for Seniors.

For small systems, such as CamTran in Johnstown, it won't have much of an effect on rush hour ridership and is a welcome change since they don't have much of a rush hour to start with. Now with larger systems, it may create a small problem.

That problem will be that larger systems may still restrict travel times for seniors using the transit identification card because of rush hour crowds. This will create unneeded hassle for the drivers that have to enforce company procedure while the law has no restrictions.

Overall, eliminating the restriction on senior riding makes sense. Currently in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, there is the "third rush hour" which consists of seniors trying to get where they are going before the real rush hour starts in the afternoon. This mini-rush hour has created some problems as both PAT and SEPTA still are running in off-peak mode. By eliminating the restrictions, that mini-rush hour will disappear and the crowd will be scattered out. Seniors, for the most part, will tend to avoid rush hour travel anyway due to the more crowded conditions.

While this change in the law won't bring in any more money from the State Lottery fund because the formula used to calculate how much each transit system receives will not change, it will be beneficial to the many seniors that depend on transit service to get around.