Odd conclusion from performance audit

Odd conclusion from performance audit

This past week the state Auditor General’s office released its mandated quadrennial performance audit of the Port Authority of Allegheny County. The audit covered the period from Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2017.

The audit focused on the mass transit agency’s hiring procedures (in the time period 330 new hires were added to bring the total headcount to 2,533 at the end of 2017) and how new service requests are processed. It also measured performance of bus and light rail operations measured by

1. on time performance,
2. percentage of time vehicles are in service,
3. and passengers per revenue hour

The audit looked at four peer agencies (Cleveland, Baltimore, Minneapolis and St. Louis) that have been used previously by the Port Authority and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to measure performance. On time arrival for buses, which the Port Authority defines as a vehicle arriving from one minute ahead to five minutes behind the time listed on the schedule (but defined differently by peer agencies) was found to be improving but still lagging at 67 percent in the two-year span.

In 2016, vehicle in service time was 85 percent for buses (the peer average was 90 percent) which the authority attributed to the locations of two bus garages and language in the collective bargaining agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union on meal breaks. On passengers per revenue hour, the Port Authority ranked second behind Baltimore with 33.8 on buses and third behind St. Louis and Minneapolis on light rail with 47.7 passengers per hour. To improve where lacking, the audit recommends a renegotiation of the collective bargaining provisions when the current labor contract expires (2020) and possibly looking at different locations for garages to reduce time out of service.

In presenting the findings the Auditor General stated that fares should not rise and that “it’s critical that Harrisburg make greater investments.” In the fiscal years since the end of FY 2013-14, state operating assistance for the Port Authority has risen from $177.6 million to $224.9 million (26 percent) due to Act 89. That is a significant increase.  But due to the Authority’s costs, even if the Auditor General put a specific number to his suggestion it would probably not be enough.

What is interesting is that the audit did not measure cost-effectiveness in comparison with the peer agencies that were utilized in other parts of the audit. 2017 numbers from the National Transit Database on bus expenses per revenue hour, a statistic highlighted in a Policy Brief this year, show that the Port Authority is higher (by 30 percent) than the other agencies. So why would the opinion that more money, specifically from the state, be made rather than asking why the Port Authority was higher on such a critical indicator?