Today at 4:00 is the deadline for comments on the PAT's "right sizing", on their website. I guess this is not a public service in posting the deadline, unless you submit at lunch (or have the free time to submit). Below I post the comment I made this morning (just under the wire). As proof that I submitted, I will repeat the confirmation message I saw when I did submit: "You comment is appreciated" or something like that. I am guilty of dropping that "r" quite frequently from "your", still every time I see the word Luigi floats to the top of my consciousness.
I want to express my dismay at the proposed cuts and fare increases in bus service for Allegheny County. I do not want to blame particular individuals and I want to express understanding for taxpayers who live outside Allegheny County and outside the county(s) served by Philadelphia’s mass transit system. Paying for (subsidizing) someone else’s bus service seems unreasonable. But just like everyone pays for public schools because we all benefit from more educated, more employable citizens, the state benefits from Pittsburgh’s public transit in measurable ways, and even somewhat less measurable. There is a section on the Port Authority website:
that describes the benefits of public transit. I would call attention to the sections that mention reducing pollution and improving employment by making it possible for people to work further from their home (either comfortably or even at all). Less pollution particularly improves public health and adds that intangible quality of life benefit that some people deeply value. A stronger Pittsburgh in terms of employment and a gentler Pittsburgh in terms of our contribution to pollution are tangible contributions back to the rest of the state.
I don’t have any especially insightful suggestions. I think the county government needs to step up and find and offer a dedicated funding source. A good symbolic gesture would be a tax on SUV’s, or any non-commercial vehicle either weighing over a certain tonnage or with a power to weight ratio in excess of a certain percentage (i.e. a sports car). I would argue against a sales tax, since it tends to fall more regressively on the poor.
I think that the drivers and mechanics may have to be asked to at least freeze their wages. Ideally they would offer to do at least that, because there is a certain unfairness in the citizens of Allegheny County asking them to do that. I realize that as a union, the structure of the thing is such that the most senior employees would oppose a wage cut (their jobs won’t be cut). I would suggest that if a wage cut is proposed, 10% or 20% or whatever, management (all management) simply adopt it first before proposing it to the drivers and mechanics. That would be the way to start to show real leadership, and to approach the issue with a degree of moral authority.
All that said, the real issue of buses running with only two or three riders at night is a real problem. Still, simply cutting a route that has rush hour riders and serves remote neighborhoods is punishing Allegheny County for not having fixed PAT in the past. Even if the routes that are due to be eliminated are simply cut in half, that should save a considerable amount of money and preserve the ability of those who can’t drive or who are unable to, to still move around the city. It may inconvenience them, but a greater inconvenience would be to have to walk (or perhaps roll) an extra two or three miles in sub zero temperatures.
I would ask for consideration of the suggestions many others make, like switching to the smaller buses in between the rush hours and after rush hour. The hub and spoke idea should be tried (or expanded upon), it may not work, Pittsburghers may refuse, but at least you will have tried.
Finally, I would propose cutting fares, even a token amount. If Public transportation serves a public purpose and mission, it should not b trying to use fares to balance its budget. Lower fares might pay for themselves through increased rider ship (like lower taxes actually increase revenues, right republicans?). More importantly, though, increasing the number of riders increases the level of all those public benefits mentioned before (and on the PAT website), less pollution, less traffic congestion, easier parking for those who still need to, an improved employment picture for Pittsburgh, and a public service for the poor. More inexpensive public transportation for Allegheny County would promote the kind of revitalization the county wants to see.
My own stake in this issue is not strictly personal. I drive to work right now because I am working two jobs with a tight middle commute. I have a University ID, so I can ride the bus for free. I recently bought a folding bike, partly to be able to take it on buses, any bus, not just those with the bike racks. I believe in public transportation as one of those government agencies that can serve the public good. There will always be complaints and bumps in the road. But these route cuts and fare increases will be a permanent blow to the public’s opinion of PAT.