Tone-deafness at the Port Authority

Tone-deafness at the Port Authority

There’s some troubling news embedded in a Post-Gazette story about the Port Authority of Allegheny County shelving, at least for now, a pricey rebranding campaign for the mass-transit agency:

Ridership remains about 60 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

And there should be more implications for the agency than just delaying that half-million-dollar-plus buff and shine.

In fact, there should be a wholesale re-evaluation of an agency long on out-of-whack costs and short on accepting realities.

We’re talking everything from 20 years plus of quite stagnant labor force growth to credible questions about how much of that lingering pandemic-induced ridership loss can be recovered (if at all, given changing employer and employee work habits).

We’re talking about the agency’s inability to tame a bloated cost structure that, at least when it comes to bus service, tops peer agencies nationwide but also rivals the likes of New York City.

We’re talking about a mass-transit agency that continues to insist that light-rail service, the most inefficient way to move people in all but the densest populations, be expanded.

And we’re talking about a Port Authority that will be in a world of hurt when million of dollars in pandemic “relief” money runs out – in a climate in which it took few, if any, discernible steps to economize and in which future funding sources remain a giant question mark.

A Port Authority spokesman told the P-G that the agency “thought it would be tone-deaf” to bow its re-branding campaign during the pandemic.

But the real tone-deafness comes within an agency filled with a growing list of high-priced administrators harboring the fugitive that is unsustainable inefficiency.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).