Will County’s Counsel on Transit Be Heard?

Since announcing the formation of a Special Committee on Public Transportation in mid-April, two meetings have been held. The first, in April, lasted 48 minutes. The most recent, on May 10th, lasted 30 minutes. A total of seven County Council members have attended, with four having come to both.

The Committee’s goal stated at the outset was to "…develop a unified public transportation plan that county officials can present to Governor Corbett and legislators". Soon after the County created the Special Committee the Governor announced his own transportation task force, a task force which has been written on in the blog and in Briefs, and it will be deliberating through the summer and is expected to issue recommendations by August 1st. Now the County wants to have its deliberations and feedback forwarded to the task force by the beginning of July.

Will the County have a unified transit plan? Usually the chorus of voices that is the loudest chants about dedicated revenues, which the Governor’s task force is going to look at, but in a broader scope for roads, bridges, transit, airports, etc. What are the ingredients of the unified plan? It is very unclear, but the May 10th hearing produced a few interesting tidbits from the PAT CEO. First, answering a question from a Council member he noted there have been "…increases in utilization of the Authority’s park and ride lots near the routes turned over to Lenzner in the North Hills". Recall that the board voted to allow the private provider take over two routes that the Authority was no longer going to operate. Thus far there has been little evidence about how Lenzner is doing on those routes and while the CEO’s comments don’t provide any detailed numbers and could be anecdotal.

Second, the CEO stated "…escalating legacy costs will likely hamstring the Authority in the event that the performance based funding model is perpetuated from Act 44 to the new legislative solution". The 2010 single audit for PAT shows an unfunded retiree health care liability of $812 million and an unfunded pension liability of $198 million. PAT put in over $60 million for both benefits in 2010. What is the "performance based funding model" you ask? According to PENNDOT factors like passengers per hour, cost per hour, revenue per hour, and cost per passenger trip would factor into allocating scarce dollars. No wonder officials at PAT are scared: our Brief last week showed that PAT has very high passenger costs on buses and those costs increased over the decade at a very high rate.