Airport Corridor Free Rides

The Airport Corridor Transportation Association (ACTA) provides free, on-demand shuttle bus service for employees in the airport corridor area. According to the ACTA, 80,000 riders per year travel to 150 employers in a roughly one mile radius of the Robinson Town Centre. The cost of the service is stated to be $750,000 annually, about $9.40 per ride. 80,000 riders per year is the equivalent of about 220 riders per day. $750,000 dollars in cost per year is $2,054 per day.

Assuming three buses operating for 17 hours per day means on average there are 4.3 riders per hour of bus operation. With two buses, the ridership per hour of bus operation would be 6.5.

No wonder the cost per ride is so high. Let’s hope the taxpayers are not covering that cost. After all, they are already heavily subsidizing the bus riders (probably $3 to $4 per ride) who arrive on the 28 Flyer and the 29 Robinson bus. Presenting a transfer from the PAT bus gets a free ride on the ACTA shuttle at the IKEA bus shelter. And then the riders can request individual pickups when they are ready to come back to IKEA.

No one is opposed to helping folks get to work but at some point, the cost of the ride needs to be borne by the beneficiaries of the service. 150 employers who are benefitting by having employees able to get to work should be willing to make a contribution to the service. If they put in $5,000 apiece per year that would cover the cost. And if they were willing to pay for the cost, they would certainly demand major changes to reduce the outrageous costs. Over $2,000 per day to carry 220 people cannot be close to what an efficient operation would cost. $20 per hour for drivers would cost less than $800 per day. Fuel might cost another $100. And those are generous allowances. Surely, $2,000 per day is far too high.

And to be completely politically incorrect, why can’t passengers chip in a dollar or two a day? Two bucks per day should cover half of reasonable expenditures.

Thus, the appeals for state dollars to pay for the service, while not surprising, is not appropriate or justified.

Pennsylvanian per Rider Subsidy

While passengers who use the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Amtrak service-known as the Pennsylvanian-are gleeful over the state’s willingness to allocate $3.8 million to keep the train running, it is important for taxpayers not using the service to know what this means for them. Bear in mind that the total subsidy, including money from Amtrak sources, is $6.5 million to keep the train running in the next fiscal year. Remember too, that the one way fare between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh-and the other way round-is $40.

At a recent Transportation hearing in Harrisburg the deputy secretary of PennDOT told legislators the $3.8 million represents a subsidy per rider of $15 to $16. Coincidentally, that is the one way fare for a trip between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on the MegaBus that offers three times a day service and makes the trip in less than four hours instead of the five and a half hours on the train.

Now, with the $3.8 million being just over half of the entire subsidy, then the total per passenger trip subsidy is $30 or more. Isn’t that swell; all those folks enjoying the train from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg while taxpayers pick up nearly half of the actual cost of their ride.

To his credit, the secretary did say that it might be time to contemplate higher fares on the service to lower the taxpayer subsidy. But raising the fare to, say $60, to cover two thirds of the subsidy would almost certainly reduce the passenger count as riders seek lower cost transportation. Some might even consider the $16 MegaBus trip. Then the reality would set in. If train riding demand is elastic over the range of the price hike to $60, then the Harrisburg to Pittsburgh service would generate less revenue than currently and the subsidy per passenger could go up rather down (assuming the cost of the operating the train is nearly independent of the number of passengers). Then too, the amount of the subsidy rises with the length of the trip so that someone going to Altoona from Harrisburg would receive less of a subsidy than a traveler going on to Latrobe. But the secretary was using an average and that is the best way to look at the situation. Without the volume of passengers from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg and vice versa the service would be far too expensive per rider to operate.

What a quandary for politicians. They could do the right thing and stop the heavy subsidization of train rides between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg altogether since there are no appreciable external or societal benefits compared to letting people take a bus that pays fuel taxes and tolls to help maintain the roads it travels. Now that is concept worthy of consideration.

Oh Joy, Free T Rides on the North Shore Connector

With agreement reached between the Port Authority (PAT) and the Steelers and Rivers Casino to provide free light rail service from the North Shore to Downtown in exchange for the payment of $200,000 this year, $205,000 next year and $210,000 the year after that, all rides between North Shore stops and center city will be free.


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Senatorial Connector Criticism Gets Lame PAT Response

In a recently released report by Senators Coburn and McCain titled “Summertime Blues”, the North Shore Connector-Pittsburgh’s $529 million “big dig”-was identified as the third most offensive use of stimulus funds.  For the record and for the curious, the Connector was bested in its offensiveness as a waste of money by a closed visitors’ center that was fitted with new windows and a software package for interpretative dance. 


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