PRT cues the funhouse mirrors, smoke machines

PRT cues the funhouse mirrors, smoke machines

Sometimes we are forced to wonder if public officials live on the same planet or even in the same universe as the public they are supposed to serve. Witness the Port Authority of Allegheny County, now doing business as Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT).

As the Tribune-Review reports it, PRT will, beginning Nov. 20, “reduce service hours by nearly 2 percent, which will impact 11 bus routes and the blue-line light-rail route.”

“Overall, the reduction means 488 hours of service will be reduced per week, out of more than 27,000 weekly hours, according to PRT,” the Trib says, adding:

“Katharine Kelleman, the agency’s CEO, said at a board meeting Friday that persistent worker shortages in the transit operator and maintenance departments are the main reason for service cuts.

“’It is our top concern and our top priority today, to keep people in and to restore the cuts to the community that we have had taken away,’ Kelleman said. ‘We thought it would be solved by now and it has not been.’”

Hold the phone!

As the Allegheny Institute’s Eric Montarti concluded in an Oct. 26 white paper (Policy Brief Vol. 22, No. 39), well past the deepest throes of the coronavirus pandemic, ridership on PRT buses and trolleys remains a shadow of its former self.

To wit, in August 2022, compared with pre-pandemic August 2019, average bus ridership was 37 percent lower and average light-rail ridership 52 percent lower.

“Low ridership exacerbates PRT’s already high operating costs,” the think tank scholar says.

“(I)f ridership does not increase dramatically by year’s end, PRT needs to look at bus routes with extremely low levels of ridership and either cut trips or begin shifting service to much smaller vehicles that consume much less fuel and have, overall, drastically lower operation costs,” says Montarti, the institute’s research director.

And should it not, Montarti advocates for local and state officials to force the issue – by cutting funding and forcing the PRT to right-size its operations to reflect its new ridership reality.

Yet PRT adamantly insists that worker shortages, not ridership decreases, are the main reason for the nearly 2 percent service cuts coming in just over two weeks.

As we are wont to quip in such instances of public officials denying reality:

“Pay no attention to the carnival barkers directing the public to those panels of funhouse mirrors as they ramp up the smoke machines.”

PRT’s government funders, on behalf of taxpayers, must refuse to accept that warped reality, clear the smoke and force the mass-transit agency to get its hardly funny house in order.

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