Tomorrow is decision day for the Port Authority board: facing a 15% service reduction that is scheduled to go into effect on March 27th, the board will have to approve or deny of an application by a competitive provider who wants to run fixed-route service from the North Hills to Downtown, five says a week. Under the law that created the Port Authority it has exclusive jurisdiction over fixed route bus service but can determine the most efficient and effective way to operate service, including contracting out to other providers.
Part of the opposition to the proposal is the argument that the competitive provider is not taking up all of the discontinued routes and people in other parts of the County will be left without service. In the Mon Valley there is a proposal by a non-profit to increase its job-based service as a result of the cutbacks. A quick search shows that the service has been around since at least 2005. One official of the non-profit was quoted as saying "when we were looking at what the Port Authority service cuts were going to do to the Mon Valley, we saw that several major employers were no longer going to have transit services, and we felt that many people in the Mon Valley who are low-income may have no other choice than to lose their job".
Sounds like the same rationale as the North Hills proposal. The question arises: why does this service not need the approval of PAT the same way the competitive service provider does? After all, here is a service that is ramping up what it offers in light of the void in service. According to officials at PAT, the Mon Valley service is not fixed route, does not charge a fee, has a specific destination on the trip (work, school), and is mostly Federally-funded. Therefore it lies outside of the traditional jurisdiction of the transit authority and does not need the board’s approval to expand its service offerings.
In response to the planned reduction of mass transit service that entails the elimination of 29 routes and the curtailment of 37 others, Lenzner Tours, a private service provider, has applied to the Port Authority (PAT) for permission to operate service from points in the North Hills to Downtown Pittsburgh. A public hearing took place on March 8th, and a second one is scheduled for March 14th. PAT’s board is not scheduled to act upon the Lenzner application prior to its regularly scheduled meeting on March 25th. Here’s the problem. With the service reductions scheduled to occur on March 27th, is it reasonable to delay until March 25th the decision to grant the company permission to begin service?
The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is making headlines by claiming they are out of options regarding service. Their planning and development committee recommended moving forward with service cuts, fare increases, and job layoffs as a way to deal with looming budget deficits for both the coming year and the following. While they may be out of options regarding additional revenues, with the State facing its own budget crisis as more money from Harrisburg is unlikely, are they really out of options regarding service?
If the transit agency is truly concerned with their riders they will consider thinking outside the box to bolster service instead of cutting it. This recognizes the fact that the Authority holds a monopoly over public transit and would have to give permission for any outside agency to provide service.
One recommendation is to allow routes to private bus companies or to neighboring transit agencies. Currently transit agencies from other counties run routes into Pittsburgh. Why not let them pick up additional passengers along the way? PAT’s board could come to agreements to provide service to areas that will be underserved or have not service at all.
If an existing agency doesn’t have the equipment they could lease any unused buses from PAT for $1 per year. With the cuts to service and potential for hundreds of layoffs, PAT will have unused buses that could be leased out
Of course with the service cuts, layoffs, and fare increases scheduled to take effect in July 2011, PAT would have to move quickly on bidding out routes and giving other transit agencies time to enter into negotiations as to which routes they would like to pick up. This type of out of the box thinking may not only avoid drastic service cuts, it may also create and incentive for PAT’s employees to reconsider their adamant opposition to any type of concession.