Angst over PAT Funding and Service

Downtown business and civic leaders are in a panic over the coming cuts in PAT bus service arising out of the transit agency’s near $50 million budget shortfall. The leaders are calling on Harrisburg to come up with money to fill the budget hole. Instead they should be asking why PAT has not asked for significant concessions from its employees. They should also ask why the Authority and Governor Rendell believed for three years that the Federal Transportation Administration would approve tolling I-80 when the plan presented by the state clearly did not meet Federal legal requirements.

The business and civic leaders might also ask why PAT diverted capital funds to the North Shore Connector that could now be used to shore up service temporarily. The leaders could also ask why PAT has felt compelled to keep building huge capital projects requiring large amounts of debt that now has to be paid back and is using up funds that could be used to fill to budget hole.

Months ago the Allegheny Institute proposed a plan under which the state would match each dollar in permanent compensation reductions PAT was able to achieve through wage and benefit concessions. Savings through layoffs-that led to service cuts-would not count. There has been no effort in that direction. PAT prefers to lay people off and the unions prefer to suffer layoffs rather than make any wage or benefit concessions. The senior employees are protected at the expense of the junior workers and transit system users.

But most despicable is that PAT and its unions will not allow private companies or other regional transit agencies to offer bus service to make up some or most of the service reductions stemming from the budget shortfall.

The fault lies not in Harrisburg’s inability or unwillingness to throw more money at the hugely expensive transit agency but in the agency, the unions and the local enablers who have failed over the years to demand accountability or work for changes that could have prevented this day from arriving. Plenty of earlier crises should have awakened them to the reality of transit agency that is financially out of control.