Is the Port Authority nearsighted or blind?

Is the Port Authority nearsighted or blind?

Perhaps (just perhaps, the scrivener asked, sardonically), this is the underlying problem with the Port Authority of Allegheny County?

As the Tribune-Review reports it, the mass-transit agency, in the midst of drafting its “NEXTransit” 25-year plan, held three virtual public meetings recently to seek input “to shape the future of public transportation in the region.”

“No idea is too small, no dream is too big,” said Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman.

The Trib, quoting an authority spokesman, says that as the agency seeks public input, it is asking that public, at least initially, to not consider how much a project would cost.

“We don’t want the question, ‘How do we pay for it?’ to be a barrier,” said Adam Brandolph.

That appears to be a long-standing problem for the Port Authority, dating back to such things as (but not limited to) the North Shore Connector.

You recall the scenario – that wildly over-budget, under-the-Allegheny River light-rail link between the Golden Triangle and the near North Shore that, to this day, must bribe riders to use it with free service.

Or how about the authority’s perpetually out-of-whack costs (when compared to peer transit agencies and even larger ones) to provide bus service?

Now, in all fairness to Brandolph, he does note that, “Eventually price and cost may very well be a barrier” to any dreams of building, say, a new light-rail line to somewhere or even a new mountainside incline.

But this is the same Port Authority that rationalizes the agency’s to-date net 70 percent decline in ridership due to the coronavirus pandemic by saying it is “breaking even” thanks to government rescue dollars.

And, apparently, pay no attention to that pandemic behind the curtain; the 25-year “NEXTransit” planning isn’t about dealing with Covid-19. That would be nearsighted, according to Brandolph.

That’s a curious statement of short shrift given the staying power of coronavirus and how its lessons already have temporarily – and might permanently – change how mass-transit services have to be delivered to address changing work habits.

Downtown offices have, in many cases, become ghost towns as remote work has become the temporary norm. But considering remote work’s cost- and operational-effectiveness, it might become the permanent norm.

And as we’ve noted many times, there was a growing glut of premium office space well before the pandemic struck. If “NEXTransit” doesn’t take “next Pittsburgh,” so to speak, into account, what does that say about Port Authority planning?

We guess there’s nearsightedness and then there’s blindness.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).