In a repeat of this past weekend’s playoff game, the Port Authority (PAT) does not know if it will have enough drivers volunteer to operate shuttles for the championship game on Sunday. The transit union denies there was any orchestrated plan to cause the shortage of drivers, but noted "a lot of people would rather sit at home and watch the game than volunteer to work an extra shift."
True, and a lot of other people might like to make a living driving a bus or a shuttle without interference from the County’s one-stop-transit-shop. Just two years ago the transit union opposed a plan to permit Lenzner Coach Lines from operating a shuttle between Station Square, Downtown, and the North Side. The head of the union said that "a Lenzner shuttle would take jobs away from his union brethren and leave riders paying more than they would on a PAT bus".
Could there be a better case for removing PAT’s mass transit monopoly? PAT management cannot assign people to drive shuttles and must depend on volunteers. And no other company or regional bus agency can step up and offer service because they are not permitted to do so in Allegheny County. Efficient transit service is subject to the whims of the transit union. If they want to drive they will, if they don’t want someone else to drive, they will stop them.
What a disgrace that the unions have driven PAT into a financial and gross inefficiency ditch and are still holding the Authority up to ridicule.
Here’s an idea for the County Executive. Rather than trying to stand in the way of court ordered re-assessments, appoint some PAT board members who will take a harder line with the unions and then go to Harrisburg and ask for the legislative remedies the Allegheny Institute has been advocating for years. Eliminate the right of transit workers to strike, remove the PAT monopoly, and order the outsourcing of service.
The board of the Port Authority (PAT) will meet to decide how to spend the $45 million bailout recently approved by the Southwest Planning Commission (SPC). Will it succumb to demands by the union to spend it all over the next six months and thereby avoid significant service and job cuts? Or will it spread the money over the next 18 months as the SPC required as a condition to approving the fund transfer to PAT?
Normally, it would be reasonable to expect the board would honor the conditions imposed by the SPC. However, given the past behavior of the board and its unwillingness to deal forcefully with the union there is some question about what the board will do.
If the board accedes to union demands, it will be a slap in the face of the SPC members from outside Allegheny County who voted for the transfer of funds to PAT. But no one should feel any sympathy for those members. They made a huge mistake in voting for the transfer in the first place and accomplished two things, both unfortunate.
First, they granted a postponement of the day of reckoning for the Authority and the union to confront its runaway legacy cost problem and its very high labor cost and inefficiency issues. Second, the SPC’s action has further cemented the union’s conviction that state government will always provide bailout funding to reward the union’s intransigence.
The fact there is a discussion of an option to snub the SPC is a sure indication of the need for the state to take dramatic steps to correct PAT’s problems and to rein in the union’s power.
The Amalgamated Transit Union’s bottomless pit of ingratitude is on display once again. A union that was granted a reprieve from massive layoffs in March through an ill-advised approval by the SPC to become a conduit for Federal money intended for other purposes is now complaining that PAT should spend all the $45 million immediately to avoid any layoffs rather than spread it out over a year so as to minimize necessary cuts later. Predictably, the union spokesman says spend it all now and thereby force the Legislature to come up with a plan to provide more money for the Port Authority next year and the years following.
This is the same union that has garnered for itself (through threat of strikes) some of the best pay and benefit packages in the nation and yet refuses to make any concessions to help the Authority become more cost effective and operationally efficient.
And it now has the audacity to expect the state government to bend to its demands and come up with more money for the Authority. Why would anyone be surprised at this audacious behavior? The union’s intransigence has always been rewarded with more funding from one source or another. They hold the public and transit users hostage because they can and Harrisburg or Washington has always capitulated. Why would they believe the present situation is any different?
But, this time it might very well be different. The state has no money to give the Port Authority to solve its endless financial mess and, given the recent election results, there is a strong likelihood that some many members of the Legislature will be looking for solutions to the Port Authority’s high cost, inefficient service that do not require ever increasing expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
By its latest complaint about how the gift of $45 million will be spent the union leadership has made it perfectly clear that it is incapable of gratitude and is hopelessly selfish and greedy with no concern for anyone but themselves. That will definitely not play well in a financially strapped Harrisburg. Perhaps it’s just as well. Even previously sympathetic legislators must be taken aback and concerned over this blatant display of union narcissism.
According to a Tribune Review report this morning (December 17), a rally organized to encourage state legislators to provide more money to the Port Authority drew about 50 to the Mellon Square event. 50 people? What? Couldn’t organizers rouse enough off duty PAT workers, other labor demonstrators and social activists to boost the crowd number?
One can understand the lack of PAT worker participation. They won the latest skirmish over funding with the SPC capitulating to the Governor’s scheme to shift money to PAT-unless the federal government disallows the shifting of money intended for capital projects in the state to PAT’s operating budget or Congress neglects to include the money in upcoming appropriations. The workers are now confident they will not be laid off in drastic numbers and will not be asked to make concessions. So why bother with rallying when it involves going into town on a cold, wintry day?
The well-intentioned organizers should have learned something from the small attendance at the rally. To wit: most people do not want their taxes raised to create a dedicated source of revenue for PAT. That ship sailed years ago when the County adopted a local one percent sales tax to fund regional assets. PAT was not on the list of eligible assets.
Besides, most informed citizens know by now that any increase in revenue to PAT will only strengthen the resolve of the unions not to make compensation or work rule concessions at the next round of contract bargaining. Per rider costs will not come down and eventually more routes will be trimmed or eliminated despite more money from a dedicated revenue stream. It’s Parkinson’s Law for money in union dominated entities. Spending will rise to meet and exceed all available revenue.
In other words, informed citizens have seen how this game is played and are tired of it. PAT’s irresponsible financial behavior over the years has convinced many in the legislature and a large portion of the population that the transit agency is a money pit and requires dramatic remedial action from the Legislature to repair its out of control costs-not more tax dollars.
How pathetic. The only thing the parade led by a PAT bus accomplished was to snarl Downtown traffic. Inquiring minds are probably wondering if things are so tight at PAT how is it able to assign a bus and driver to lead a parade of protesters? How much did that cost? Did the driver work without pay? Doubtful. Did the protesters pay for the fuel? And just think of the carbon footprint of this motorcade. Mon Dieu!
If an alternative to mass transit pops up in Allegheny County you can be sure that the Port Authority’s transit union will oppose it. After all, if an alternative were to be allowed that would mean the hammerlock PAT and the union have on transit would be loosened.
The latest case involves a hotel-to-casino service that a private operator wants to run. The union took the operator to court and the union questions "why the Port Authority could not create such a route for itself."
Part of that answer could lie in the union contract dictating the use of small transit vehicles, or mini-buses. We’ve advocated that this type of vehicle ought to be put into service to get riders to collection points for transfers onto larger vehicles, especially the light rail in the South Hills. But the labor contract (in which the provisions apparently still stand, since mediation and fact-finding on the last contract did not touch those) limits the number of vehicles that can be used (3% of large buses in service) and where they can serve (low density areas, defined as an area not served by existing routes).
This negotiated limitation on the number and service area (a newspaper article stated that a fixed bus route already goes by the casino) that the union has used as a tool to keep the large bus-and the qualifications it takes to drive and maintain one-as the main vehicle of the Authority may have come back to bite the union and its desire to gain a hold on this particular service.