Notes on the summer state of things

Notes on the summer state of things

There’s more information to back up our contention that the “rebranding” of the Port Authority of Allegheny County as “Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT)” amounts to little more than smearing a new shade of lipstick on the same old bloated pig.

As Allegheny Institute Research Director Eric Montarti notes, the legal name of the public-transit agency will remain the “Port Authority of Allegheny County.”

That nugget came in an agency board resolution this month.

To wit:

“Under the Second Class County Port Authority Act, this organization’s legal name is – and will remain – Port Authority of Allegheny County.

“The resolution allows us to brand our business and operation under a fictitious trade name – PRT – without changing our legal name.”

This is not necessarily an unusual practice in the business world. But the phrase “fictitious trade name” strikes us as something of a metaphor for a transit agency that some might claim offers “fictitious” service.

That is, it’s rife with out-of-whack high costs not only greater than peer agencies but those that rival, in some metrics, the nation’s largest transit systems, New York City in particular.

Whether “rebranding” the “old” Port Authority pig with that new shade of lipstick amounts to the public being sold a proverbial pig in a poke remains to be seen.

But, as noted in a previous “At Large,” we have our doubts that much will change with this agency, no matter its “branded” name, its legal name or the color of the pig’s lipstick.

Speaking of authorities, the Allegheny County Airport Authority finds itself in a decidedly sticky wicket. And it’s one that’s not professionally complimentary.

As the Post-Gazette’s Mark Belko reports, Fraport, the operator of the mall at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), “was forced to go to court [on June 16] to prevent the termination of its lease after it claimed its employees were booted from the terminal.”

It became so heated that airport officials brought in the county gendarmes to remove Fraport employees from the premises.

But an Allegheny County judge has enjoined the Airport Authority from evicting Fraport pending the resolution of a company request for a temporary injunction hearing.

The back-story is that Fraport and the authority have been fighting over the past year or so with charges and counter-charges flying between the two.  And the authority has alleged Fraport has been engaged in serious security lapses. Fraport’s lease does not expire until 2029.

We’ll allow this matter to wend its way through the courts until further assessing the public policy implications. But one Fraport allegation, against Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis, certainly raises our eyebrows.

In Fraport’s legal complaint, its CEO, Mike Mullaney, contends that Cassotis – in a September 2021 meeting – told him “there isn’t a contract that the county can’t get out of. Not one.”

As the P-G reports it, Cassotis said it “had been able to cancel every contract the authority did not want, and that Fraport would be next, the complaint claimed.”

Ancillary to this issue, it makes us wonder what kind of due diligence (or lack thereof) the authority practices in its contracting.

We already have seen subsidized airlines take the authority for a ride when their financial wherewithal proved to be questionable. And what about its contracts for the $1.4 billion terminal project at PIT?

Well?

Airport Authority Solicitor Jeffrey Letwin disputes the above specific allegation and all others.

But the alleged Cassotis statement should make any vendor considering a contract with the Airport Authority, or even Allegheny County, to think twice, if not thrice.

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