Port Authority pitches 'drastic' cuts in jobs, routes

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Greasefoot
Participant
#

This is in the Trib today…

PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Last updated: 9:51 am

Port Authority today announced a plan that would cut service by 35 percent, eliminate about 50 routes and lay off 500 employees in an effort to plug a $47.1 million budget deficit.

“(The cuts) are pretty straightforward, but they’re very drastic,” said Ritchie, calling the cuts the deepest in the authority’s 46-year history.

The plan, scheduled to be discussed at a committee meeting this morning and expected to pass, will go before the authority’s board on Friday, Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

About 90 communities — from city neighborhoods to suburbs — will be affected by the cuts, Ritchie said. Fifty would lose transit service entirely, and another 40 would face a “severe reduction” in service, he said.

In the city, Banksville and Spring Garden would lose service. Some routes in Marshall-Shadeland and Squirrel Hill also would be cut. The plan calls for eliminating service to Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville and to Robinson Towne Center and Settler’s Ridge in Robinson, among other locations.

Arlington, Downtown, Oakland, Greenfield, Highland Park, the Hill District, Homewood, Lawrenceville, Lincoln Place, Mt. Washington, Shadyside and Westwood would face significant service loss.

Greg Sylvis, 37, of Bethel Park wasn’t pleased to hear about the proposed cuts.

“There’s a lot of people who are disabled, a lot of people who rely on the bus,” Sylvis said.

Most fares would increase by a quarter — bus rides would range from $2.25 to $3 — but a new “premium” fare of $4 would be introduced for riders on suburban express bus routes and the T, Ritchie said.

Port Authority hoped to plug its budget deficit with money generated by a toll on I-80, but the federal government rejected that proposal, Ritchie said.

“Today is the day when that I-80 decision really hits home,” he said. “That is what caused the issues we’re facing.”

Public comment on the proposal goes from tomorrow until Aug. 31. Port Authority will hold an all-day public hearing at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Aug. 19, Ritchie said.

The plan could change after the public-comment period, Ritchie said. The authority’s board will vote in September for final approval.

The service changes would go into effect Jan. 9, and the fare increases would start Jan. 1, he said.


dwillen
Participant
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Ha. ha. April 1st was almost 4 months ago.

They haven’t even finished implementing the last set of cuts yet. The next round for those are in early September.


rsprake
Participant
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Get ready for overflowing parking lots and even more traffic if we don’t find funding.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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Doom. DOOM!

This is Public Relations 101 in the never-ending war between PAT and the state. Note the language: “severe,” “drastic.”

It’s the end-times, people. Gramma can’t get to her knitting club! Ahhhh!

PAT rolls this same story out every time they need to press the state to renew funding. So they scare the pants off everybody until the state relents – usually at the last minute, then everybody has a kissy-huggy photo-op with lots of back slapping about how they “saved public transit” and everybody looks like a hero.

(I respect many, many people rely on public transit to get to work, shopping, doctors – life. I get that. And I don’t intend to demean that. I just find the dance between PAT and the state so predictable.)


pinky
Participant
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ALMKLM – I totally agree. Until I figure out my bike commute, I ride the bus daily between my neighborhood and downtown, so this affects me quite a bit.

We got through this on a monthly basis. Remember last month, the headline was “$7 bus fare for suburban routes!”

Unfortunately for everyone, it works every time – which just leads to more bad PR behavior. Multiple of my coworkers have already contacted their state legislators to press them for more transit funding.


Mick
Participant
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I’ve never seen PAT’s rhetoric to be so intense. But then, I probably haven’t paid enough attention.

If indeed, there are drastic transit cuts? It will be both good news and bad news.

Bad news, for people who depend on PAT for their transportation – or even part of their transportation. Bad news for people who support non-car-oriented transportation.

Good new? How can it be good news?

It could mean an increase in bike use. Some people will be faced with either biking or buying a car – and some of those people can’t afford cars.

Rush hour traffic will get worse. Some commuters who previously faced either a half-hour drive versus 45 minutes of riding will now face 40 minutes of driving versus 45 minutes of riding.

I find it appalling that drastic cuts are being considered (Better to drill for more oil? Declare war on antoher middle eastern country?), but I also look forward to having the opportunity to ride on the jail trail and ring my bell for people sitting still on the Parkway.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
#

No, it’s real. I’ve been in this battle every one of the past 18 years. This almost happened in March 2005, but Rendell pulled out a political hat-rabbit which fended off the wolves until 6/30/05.

The past two years’ transit has not been paid for; it’s all been bond money from Act 44 in expectation of I-80 tolling.

I could and should write a book about this.

Now you know where I am in this: Make it possible to get absolutely anywhere, absolutely all the time, without use of a car OR the bus, and still live and work in the suburbs.


pinky
Participant
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Stu – you know a lot about transit. Whatever happened to the funds from the drink tax?


Swalfoort
Participant
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I am with Stu on this. I think the era of magical last minute reprieves might be behind us. The State no longer has that same magic hat it had in 2005.


JZ
Participant
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Given how many times PAT has threatened “drastic cuts” and “significant fare hikes” in the past, I pretty much can’t bring myself to take this seriously.

They’re spending millions on building an unpopular tunnel that as likely as not will be underutilized.

On the bright side, if they do implement these drastic cuts, that should make it less likely that I get run off the road by some jerk PAT bus driver.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
#

That’s not stopping PAT from making an emotional PR play. In the absence of a real substantive PLAN to make fundamental changes to how they operate, this is just a tired PR move.

Threatening punitive rates/cuts doesn’t get to the root of the matter (which Stu can describe far better than me). Maybe PAT doesn’t get that this is real, maybe PAT does think Rendell has a few hundred million (or whatever the shortfall is) in his pocket.

Either way, PAT is behaving as though the only solution is raising rates/cutting routes.


dwillen
Participant
#

They just spent buckets of money hiring consultants, holding meetings, and designing a streamlined system with route cuts, which they still have not fully implemented. I assume this new plan was designed to save money. Now they say they are cutting those newly-streamlined routes, which their highly-paid consultants told them would be more profitable? I don’t get it.


Impala26
Participant
#

If these cuts happen I am pretty sure that everyone who does NOT rely on transit will realize just how important those smelly buses are to our region. Bates Street already backs up into the heart of Oakland at rush hour from Parkway traffic… Have fun on your longer car rides in and around the city, folks!

Seriously though, it does sound like typical PAT song and dance, but it admittedly sounds more dire and serious. My best hope for a worst-case scenario is that they implement the cuts and that over time they ramp up service again slowly. Unless there is a magical Harrisburg “hat trick”, I think that’s the best we in the region can hope for.

This thing is starting to look more disasterous by the day…


StuInMcCandless
Participant
#

The poured drink and car rental taxes provide the local match that is required in order for the state to provide the funds it promised.

The problem at hand is that there is a half-billion hole in the state’s end of the deal.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Act 44 also required PAT (and SEPTA and every other transit company in the state) update its service. Hence the two-year process to redesign the system. They are not route cuts: Though lots of routes go away, they are replaced by similar, more cost-effective service, exactly what the anti-transit outcry demanded.

There is no profit in public transit. Profitability ended in the 1930s and 1940s. But some in-city routes do actually bring in more than they cost per passenger. My guess is that those are the only ones that will be left.

The tunnel has nothing to do with this. That’s capital money; this is operating money. Whether they will have any operating money to run trains under the river come 2012, that’s another question. But the tunnel is off-topic.

Next question?


Impala26
Participant
#

Stu, is there any real short term hope that the situation can be rectified? Or at least, mitigated to an acceptable level, i.e. keep most city routes intact and scrap all suburban routes save for the express peak-hour ones and making a more “true value” fare system reflecting on the significant higher cost for suburban routes?


JZ
Participant
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I’m sorry, Stu. I have a lot of respect for your opinions, but to me, “The tunnel is capital money” is a tired old wheeze. It’s a shell game. Transit is (and IMO should be) largely subsidized by taxes. (I am not one of the people arguing that a transit system should subsist entirely on fares.) There’s a lot of rhetoric surrounding whether taxes come from gasoline taxes, tools, pour taxes, income taxes, tolls, etc. At the 50000-foot level, those things all end up coming out of all of our pockets, either directly or indirectly.

So, while I’m okay with dipping into my pocket to subsidize transit, I want a transit system that is run both efficiently and effectively. When considering whether money is being well-spent, ignoring capital costs to focus exclusively on operating costs is very short-sighted (as is the reverse).


Ahlir
Participant
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Yes, PAT’s annual charade is rather tiresome.

But why are you wasting energy being annoyed with PAT? The actual problem is broken transportation policy at the state level that denies public transit steady predictable funding.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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+1 Ahlir

@impala26: That’s what the proposed cuts and fare hikes are.

@jz: To a large extent you are right; it’s all tax money one way or another. But there are two different pots, and the ops side has the biggest problem. Cap side, we have other issues, but they’re not as critical.

What makes this complicated are the various laws and constitutional clauses that direct where the money can come from and where it can be spent.

What makes this necessary is that the household budget was planning on a $33K income and now has to do it on $28K. Many fixed costs. It’s find the money or do without, and the money isn’t there. Only add four zeroes to the end of each number.


Boazo
Participant
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How many transit riders are there ? PATs anual budget is $330 million right. So say there’s one hundred thousand riders ( people that use it every day). You could give each person $3,300, right?


JZ
Participant
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I agree completely that blaming PAT and only PAT for the current funding problems is unreasonable. There’s no one person or organization at fault here; it’s taken a lot of collective stupidity over many years.

I guess what I’m saying can be reduced to two bullets.

1- PAT threatening drastic cuts and fare hikes unless “something is done” is nothing new. We’ve been this route many times before, and the world didn’t end, and public transit didn’t cease to exist. It’s totally legit to point out that those threats were not completely empty; in the past, things *were* done. The problem is that PAT employs the hysterical “the world is ending” tone so frequently that it does not produce a sense of urgency. I would not be surprised to learn that many other people are largely ignoring this issue for precisely this reason – they’re relatively convinced that the problem will solve itself.

2- “It’s find the money or do without, and the money isn’t there.” I agree completely, but this is where I hate overcompartmentalizing budgets. Looking at a thousand micropictures will show a lot of dirt, but it doesn’t produce a good landscape view. The tunnel personally chafes me because I think it offers a poor RoI as compared to other possible expenses. A poor analogy, but the best I can do off the top of my head at the moment, is that this is like switching from a dinner of steak, potato, spinach, and a $100 bottle of wine to a hamburger, fries, and a $100 bottle of wine. I understand that there are laws that restrict how money can be spent, but the same legislature that enacts the state budget is capable of changing state law. (And yes, I totally feel that our legislature itself is a fantastic example of inefficient and unnecessary expenses.)


sloaps
Participant
#

If PAT could eliminate $20k of salary, benefits and other labor costs from each employee, then the problem is solved – for this year!

I don’t know why this hasn’t be implemented, yet?

As far as the expected increases in traffic, let’s just whistle past the graveyard on our bikes.

/end sarcasm.


rsprake
Participant
#

I would not be surprised to learn that many other people are largely ignoring this issue for precisely this reason – they’re relatively convinced that the problem will solve itself.

I bet they are the same people who largely ignore every problem and only vote in the presidential election every four years.


Greasefoot
Participant
#

The Union would strike…I recall reading that a handful of bus drivers still make over $100k and one driver made $120k last year. The driver average salary is around $80k…Does anyone have the phone number for Truck Masters? I want to pick up my CDL.


rsprake
Participant
#

It’s a pretty good gig if you can get it. Stressful, but my job is stressful to and I don’t have a pension or health care when I retire.

But when you’re looking at a $50 million short fall in funding, cutting salaries won’t even make a dent.


Mick
Participant
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recall reading that a handful of bus drivers still make over $100k and one driver made $120k last year. The driver average salary is around $80k…

One consequence of this that I don’t see discussed – the salaries put the bus drivers in a different economic class than the people who ride buses. Another is that there are bus drivers that hate their job – but could never find another job that pays nearly as well.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
#

*sigh* That argument again.

Here’s what my friend Mike Sypolt (you may have met him at the map unveiling party back in April) said:

“The problem is that the media take the example of a few hard working drivers that make the 80-130k per year. If at top wage, I punched in and out for 40 hours per week at top rate for the entire year, not coming in for any off days, I would make approximately $52,000 per year. But if I worked 80 hours per week for AN ENTIRE YEAR, I would make $130,000 per year as a bus driver. I don’t care how you spin that, 130k is very fair wage for working 11 hours on average EVERY DAY including all Holidays. I seriously doubt that you and I would have what it takes to drive a bus for 11 hours per day for an entire year with no holidays, vacations, or any other such break. Even working 12-16 hours per day with a few vacations and holidays spaced throughout the year would be extremely difficult.

The media would not talk about that. This information does not support their case, so they omit it.”


TheLivingTed
Participant
#

i hate to say it, but

1) biking is not a viable option for every pittsburgher nor should it have to be.

and

2) Bikers also like taking public transit so they can put their feet up, read books, drink coffee and listen to tunes on the way to Ikea, whilst avoiding rain and snow.

Also, I can’t think of a great city without proper public transit, so if Pennsylvania wants Pittsburgh to remain in the lurch it can continue to neglecting its transportation infrastructure.


Greasefoot
Participant
#

Stu,

It’s my understanding that the drivers are reaching these wages via overtime but they are not working 80 hours a week as you described. The CDL rules state a driver may not drive more than 70 hours within any period of 8 consecutive days. So an 80 hour work week as you discribed is against the law and not to mention unsafe.

A driver receives overtime if they are called in on a scheduled day off. They also are allotted a large number of paid sick days each year. A group of individuals at Pat have discovered how to manipulate this by taking turns calling in sick so another drivers can be called in for overtime. This has been going on for years and when the Union negotiated the new contact in 2008 they promised they would address this issue but apparently they have not…


ErinK
Participant
#

+1 TheLivingTed. Or maybe +3 since I agree mightily with everything he said.

The irony is that transit can only gain market share by _expanding_ service and _reducing_ fares. I can’t see why I’d ever want to take a bus when it costs less to drive my car, even with parking. (Though bike is my go-to option for trips downtown, at least in summer.)

I also have heard that costs, especially labor expenses (some related to dodgy behavior and some justifiable), are probably the root of the problem. One of the arguments I remember hearing about a year ago had to do with the union refusing to negotiate on employee contributions for health care. Every non-union employee in Allegheny County is paying a share for her own health insurance, but it’s off the table for these folks?

I almost wish this system would hurry up and fail so we can replace it with something that works.

P.S. If bus drivers are really working 11-hour shifts that could explain some of those bus vs cyclist road rage incidents! ;-) But wouldn’t it make way more business sense to hire more junior drivers (with lower pay and no “grandfathered” benefits) to fill in the uncovered shifts? This isn’t rocket science.


Greasefoot
Participant
#

The Federal government has strict safety regulations for the transportation industry. It does not matter if it’s a bus driver, airline pilot, railroad engineer, or tugboat operator they are not permitted to be behind the wheel for more then 11 hours of operation and are not permitted to exceed 70 hours in an 8-day cycle. If the port authority were violating these rules the media would be reporting how unsafe the buses are…


ieverhart
Participant
#

Ted is right on all counts. I might want everyone to ride a bike, but for a variety of reasons, that’s not a realistic option for everyone, for every purpose.

I’m not sure if he would agree with this, but I’d say by definition a “great city” has a good transit system.

I rode the bus everywhere when I was in high school, and loved it. I have been much less of a transit user in the past year, riding my bike instead. But when I broke a spoke late last night and didn’t have a chance to get it fixed before the morning, for instance, I was very glad to have the bus as a backup option today.

I lived in Chapel Hill, NC, for a few years, and their transit system was “free”–well, not free, but fares were 100 percent subsidized by the local government. Most transit systems recover such a small proportion of their expenses from fares that they decided to completely eliminate a minimal fare of a buck or two as a barrier to ridership.

I can’t see why I’d ever want to take a bus when it costs less to drive my car, even with parking.

If you calculate driving at 50-55 cents per mile, as AAA and the IRS estimate, it usually doesn’t cost less to drive. Only for trips under four miles each way… in which case it makes more sense to bike, right? Especially when you figure in paying directly for parking… as opposed to “free” parking, where you pay indirectly, in the form of higher costs for everything else.


Noah Mustion
Participant
#

Ian,

I also lived in Chapel Hill a little while. This recent news has made me miss those free Tarheel blue buses (which I admittedly didn’t take full advantage of living just outside of their operating area)


StuInMcCandless
Participant
#

You all hit the magic button: Government subsidy.

Most of the funding for public transit in PA comes from Harrisburg. Most of the population of PA is in Philly and Pgh. Most of the representation in Harrisburg is from OUTSIDE OF Philly and Pgh, and therein lies the problem. The reps and senators from rural areas do not want to subsidize public transit.


scott
Keymaster
#

Cityfolk ought to advocate for proportional representation!


Noah Mustion
Participant
#

Ian

Actually wasn’t the CHT funded by UNC tuition fees? I was always under that impression when I lived there. Guess I didn’t look deep enough.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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@scott – Rhetorical question/Devil’s Advocate: why should McKean County tax receipts pay for PAT or SEPTA?


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Well, let me take that devil’s advocate position further. McKean County has virtually no public transit, though theoretically ATA Trans covers a bit of that area. Bradford is a pretty big town, and there are enough little walkable communities between there and county seat Smethport that some sort of transit might be justfiable. Ages ago, there was passenger service up this way, including — believe it or not — a steam-powered monorail service [link].

Enter the concept of the Vehicle Miles Traveled tax. Put enough cars in an area, and enough car traffic, and you begin to be able to fund a transit system in that area.

So, right now, those legislators are stuck in a Yeah Why Should I Pay For Pittsburgh Buses way of thinking, and they have a point. But they need to get out of “OldThink”, get together with their city brethren, and do what they’re elected to do, lead their way out of this mess.

Again, it ain’t just transit, and it ain’t just cities.


Mick
Participant
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@ ALMKLM: why should McKean County tax receipts pay for PAT or SEPTA?

For one thing, because the residents there go to the tax-free universities here, visit the tax-free museums, and come to the tax-free hospitals here.

For another, they will be really hosed when the price of gas finally goes out of control (and I don’t mean $8 a gallon). Residents of that county would rationally want to put off that time as long as possible.

With a statewide tax, the amount paid in by the 45K residents of McKean County that will go to the big cities is minimal.


Marko82
Participant
#

To futher the devil’s advocatcy, why should my taxes go towards schools when I don’t have kids? Yes there is increasing state and federal monies being spent on local schools, why not for transit? School bus / Work bus :-)

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