Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Cutting Bus Routes Again?!

In what I see as a tragically myopic misstep, the Port Authority of Pittsburgh announced today that they plan to eliminate over half of the city's bus routes. A projected $75-80 million deficit in next year's operating budget was offered as justification for the cuts. In addition, price hikes for fares are on their way as well. The base rate will either be raised from $1.75 to $2.50, or all rides will cost a flat fee of $2, and the zone system will be scuttled.

The changes seem partially inspired by comments made by the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commision. This bureaucratic body has said that additional transit funding will be contingent on efforts by local providers to "optimize services" despite local resistance. Ironically, we are discussing funding decreases while construction for the North Shore Connector Project (a tunnel underneath the Allegheny River) continues at a cost of $435 million. Granted the Federal Government is paying for 80% of the tunnel's costs. But the county will be on the hook for at least $14.5 million... and untold future quantities for its maintenance. Meanwhile it is unclear how the project will help city residents.

On the other hand... the benefits of having a comprehensive public transportation system, with an expansive range and frequency, are quite clear. Just take a look at the Port Authority's list. It's not so difficult to find a host of people willing to express their rabid support for the various sports franchises around town. Yet bus service never receives the same level of enthusiam- even by its regular users. It's often inconvenient to ride the bus, let alone drive around one. But try to imagine what would happen if you lost your license or your car. How would you get to work every day? How will the many low-wage laborers who staff our hospitals, clean up our messes, and service our daily (and overnight) needs get to their jobs without the routes they have been depending on?

I couldn't even tell you when the last time I rode the bus was. But I realize that public transportation is a vital element of any dynamic urban environment. In order to support the density a quality city requires, bus service becomes imperative. There are also safety issues (such as keeping drunk and poor operators from driving cars) that public transportation works well to resolve. Not only is it important on a local level, but its implications now reach global proportions. The rising costs of fossil fuels will eventually make suburban living untenable for most people. This is probably a good thing, considering the massive damage that burning those resources unleashes on the environment.

Overall the immense social benefit that public transportation provides warrants a large public expenditure. It is an essential utility- like water and power. Our tax money currently goes to mainataining an dexpanding an outdated highway system that artificially subsidizes a suburban-sprawl lifestyle. Yes... it's at taxpayer expense! But people aren't commonly heard complaining about that. If cuts are to be made, the entire process seems easier if they mostly affect the disenfranchised. And that's what cutting bus routes does. But don't be surprised if it adds to traffic congestion and slows the economy as well. It will be an undeniable if untraceable effect.

There is something you can do about the proposed changes. The Port Authority has erected a web site and established a hotline ((412) 566-5335) to field public comments.

5 Comments:

Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Well, I'm screwed. Maybe I should buy a Vespa.

Aren't transit expenses subsidized by business taxes?

8:14 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I tried to locate a list of PAT's streams of income, but I couldn't find any.

7:01 AM  
Anonymous jefg said...

Taken from newspaper reports:

"The state provides about half of the Port Authority's budget, which is $320 million for 2006-07", and "$347.5 million for 2007."

"The county appoints the nine-member authority board and contributes about $24 million annually to the operating budget."

Given these reports, on might conclude that most of the balance of income (about $140 million) is provided by ridership.

However. all the details can be found on PAT's website, under Company Information, Annual Reports.:
http://www.portauthority.org/paac/

Interesting reading. All levels of government are looking to cut back on spending, which is bt itself a good thing. The problem is when they are collectively short-sighted, amking decisions which cannot feasibly be reversed in the future as needs dictate.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Rob Park said...

More info on what you can do.
Cut and pasted from PATs website.
How to Testify

Port Authority of Allegheny County will hold a series of public hearings throughout Allegheny County to enable the public to comment on proposed service reductions, which are scheduled to be implemented in June 2007.

Individuals wishing to testify at the hearings are encouraged to pre-register by calling (412) 566-5437 (TTY 412-231-7007) from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays. Oral testimony will be limited to three minutes per speaker. Persons who have not pre-registered can register to speak at the hearings but will only be called on to speak if time slots become available. Port Authority will provide a sign language interpreter for the public hearing session, as well as Braille copies of all informational documents.

Individuals wishing to testify in writing about the service proposal should mail their comments to Port Authority Service Proposal, Heinz 57 Center, 345 Sixth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-2527. Public comments on the service proposal are also being accepted on Port Authority’s Web site at www.portauthority.org. Click on "Port Authority Service Proposal" to submit your comments. The deadline for receipt of public comments is February 9, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Good info Jefg and Rob

Thanks

9:02 PM  

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