Thursday, January 04, 2007

Go Ahead And Fuss If You Can't Take The Bus

Anyone whose life is becoming a whole lot more difficult due to the Pork Authority's proposed service changes has a right to be pissed off. People who are accustomed to being able to catch a bus right in their neighborhoods, but soon will not, have a right to be pissed off. People who enjoy the relative luxury of having a choice of buses to catch along a main road (VERY convenient if you've missed one) have a right to be pissed off. People who have to plan for 2 hour trips instead of 45 minute trips have a right to be pissed off. People who need a direct ride from the eastern neighborhoods of the city to the airport have a right to be pissed off. And you can be sure that the hundred of drivers and other employees who will be losing their jobs have a right to be pissed off.

Yep, there's a whole lot of pissing off going on out there.

The politicians and Pork Authority executives are pissed off. The union is pissed off. Well. Who is responsible for the mess, anyway? Try the politicians, the suits, and the union. They are the people whom everyone should be pissed off at.

The union has been working hard over the years to get the Pork Authority employees the best working conditions possible. This includes higher pay and better benefits. I won't complain about the benefits, as any employer that values its workers -- and can afford it -- should invest in them, but where is the money for the salary increases going to come from?

This is where the executives come in. The most obvious source of income from street level is rider fares. The Pork Authority has been raising fares frequently over the course of the last 25 years or so. Almost anytime there is talk of a fare increase, we get a fare increase. When the fares get too high, riders start looking for alternate means of transportation, or simply start riding altogether. Every fare increase has resulted in ridership decrease, and that means a loss of revenue from the patrons. Where does the Pork Authority look for money next?

It turns to the politicians. Or, in reality, to the taxpayers, whose involuntary contributions are used by the politicians in whatever way they see fit. The Pork Authority is part of Allegheny County. The county owns it, and the suits are answerable to the County Executive. Additional funding is also provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was responsible for creating the Pork Authority in the first place. So there are the next two levels of funding: county and state tax dollars.

Let us not forget that just last year, Governor Ed Rendell diverted federal tax money from infrastructure funds to the Pork Authority in order to avert a strike and "save" us all from...well, from exactly what's happening this year. In the long run, Fast Eddie's misappropriation of other people's confiscated incomes made no difference. Jobs are being cut anyway, fares are going up anyway, and service is being cut anyway. That's a fourth source of funding, and it still doesn't help.

Not all of the money from fares, taxes, etc. is going to normal expenses like compensation and maintenance. The Pork Authority feels the need to do something, no matter how trivial or pointless, beyond simply providing good service to its passengers. That's why we have things like the parking garage at the South Hills Village LRT station, and the forthcoming LRT tunnel under the Allegheny River. The money for those projects could have gone towards maintaining existing services without raising fares.

Unfortunately, as stated above, the Pork Authority is part of the county; hence, it is run like a government and not a business. The execs are very good at planning, but poor on coming up with a rational means to pay for their plans. The union doesn't give a shit where money comes from, as long as the money comes. The politicians are good for little more than passing along taxpayer monies. The workers and the riders are the ones who suffer for incompetence at the highest levels.

I've said this before, more than once, and I'll say it again: The Pork Authority needs to learn how to raise revenue by selling advertising space. When I was a kid, there were ads all up and down the light fixtures on both sides in every bus I rode. That ad space was paid for by whoever wanted the ads to be seen. There were also ads on the outside of the buses and trolleys, and it was not unusual to see a vehicle with a sponsored paint job (like the trolley that looked like a loaf of bread). Selling ad space is a good source of revenue, guys. Try it out.

We don't need buses with slogans that say "RIDE RIDE RIDE" or "Ziggin Zaggin". We don't need "Poetry On the Bus", or re-branding as "Port Authority Gold". We don't need to look at mostly unused ad space that is dominated by PSAs provided by the Pork Authority itself. A solution is right there, yet no one takes advantage of it.

And I don't expect anyone to do so anytime soon. We are watching the decline of the Pork Authority, sad as it seems. I just hope that the people who are pissed off about this -- and who have every right to be pissed off! -- know where the blame lies.

(Just as a disclaimer, I ride the bus to and from work each day, and I will not be affected in any way. The list of proposed service changes and route eliminations came out yesterday, and my bus is not on there. Rate increases also do not affect me, as my employer pays big bucks for the privilege of allowing its employees to ride for free. But I still think the whole thing stinks to high heaven.)

1 comment:

jipzeecab said...

The fly in the ointment for PAT the past few years has been the sudden rise in energy costs.
They had created a short time fix for a while by building that fleet of 28 passenger buses that used less fuel but when the fuel cost doubled that fleet became a liability, because individual driver and fuel costs were increasing at the same time.
The vast majority of funding for that Allegheny River LRT tunnel is from a grant that is only available to that project...another example of how government attempts to regulate our behavior by allowing the Fed tax funds to be used only for new infrastructure theoretically getting us to stop using our autos..
PAT's a mess, worse even now than in the past..