Public policy object lessons

Public policy object lessons

Mass-transit expert Christof Spieler gives the Port Authority of Allegheny County “good marks overall,” the Post-Gazette reports.

As the newspaper put it last week:

“Mr. Spieler especially praised the frequency of bus service and the exclusive busways that serve neighborhoods in the east, west and south for getting riders to their destinations quickly. But he urged Port Authority to improve branding for busway trips so riders can identify them easier, something the agency is looking at on a system-wide basis.”

Spieler did pan the authority for riders having to pay for transfers and a confusing system of when and where to pay fares.

But there was no mention of the Port Authority’s extraordinarily high cost to provide bus service (second only to New York City) or the dubious North Short Connector – from its serious cost-overruns during construction to the fact that to entice commuters to use it, it could not charge fares on that leg and, at last report, doesn’t even bother to measure ridership.

Turns out “good marks overall” is a far more subjective measure for this expert than one objective.

Another transit guru, Jarrett Walker (speaking in Pittsburgh last week during a transit conference, as did Spieler), calls “cars ‘an instrument of tyranny’ in cities because they create traffic jams that limit freedom,” the P-G also reports.

Apparently, Walker’s never been stuck behind a long line of buses in downtown Pittsburgh during rush hour. Ahem.

Further, Walker offers:

“There are only so many cars that fit in the street. Transportation planning is freedom planning. If you can’t go places, you can’t do things. It’s about what you will be able to do with your life.”

But there also are only so many buses that fit in the street, no matter if they are packed, partially populated or empty.

Walker added that a rigid, fixed-route transit system still is best:

“It’s a good thing it is rigid,” he said. “We can learn it and navigate it.”

Never mind that those “tyrannical” cars can go places that many buses don’t – such as getting people to the grocery store or, imagine this, to work.

Or, as Walker put it: “If you can’t go places, you can’t do things. It’s about what you will be able to do with your life.”

Can we get a double “ahem”?

From the email inbox:

A letter writer sees the Nov. 6 ballot referendum asking Allegheny County taxpayers to create a “Children’s Fund,” paid for by an increase in property taxes. “as being very ill advised.”

So does the Allegheny Institute (in Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 40).

“Raising taxes in Allegheny County will be just one more reason for people to leave Allegheny County,” he continued.

“It boils down to establishing a fund of approximately $18 million per year and my reaction to this is: ‘And what could possibly go wrong with this?’”

Considering voters will be asked to first raise their taxes with absolutely no idea how such an ill-conceived fund will be administered, plenty could go wrong.

For as another letter-writer put it, this time in the Tribune-Review:

“Once again, taxpayers are being asked to finance another government-sanctioned program. It is difficult to identify any cost-efficient and performance-correlated government program, especially one where the funding is guaranteed and non-reversible” (as per one proposed version of the enabling legislation that would be required to implement the ‘Children’s Fund’).

“Therefore, it is the best interest of those being tasked with paying the bill … to vote ‘no’ on this (home rule charter) amendment.”

The letter-writer proffers quite sound advice.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (