Monday, January 22, 2007

Some Musings on Transit [edited 1/29]

Chris Briem of Null Space and, more importantly, Pitt's Center for Social and Urban Research, has some thoughts (and an interesting little map) on proposed transit cuts. Interesting take, I thought...

[EDIT - January 29]
Briem's at it again - this time he's done a little survey of Pennsylvania's legislative districts vis-a-vis their use of transit. If this doesn't show very clearly the difficulties of getting help from the state legislature, nothing will...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Trib reports that we have too much service in Allegheny County

Did anyone notice a different slant in the print version of this story? I recall the print version portaying a picture of public transportation in Allegheny County that states that service outpaces demand. The online version has a title that insinuates that it's the labor costs that are crippling PAT's budget. Both are technically true, but I fear that presenting the issue in this manner justifies service reductions while placing the blame on PAT's employees. PAT management & PA legislators are absolved as they "do what they have to do".

I concur that services offered by PAT outpace demand. That's because nobody desires the subpar service that they have been offered for years. Allegheny County residents want better service, not less service.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

PG editorial staff against the privatization of the PTC

Who knew that the Turnpike is the "pride of Pennsylvania"? I love how everybody hints that the PTC is laden with patronage jobs, but nobody wants to name names or call somebody out on the floor.

Friday, December 08, 2006

CMU group to present results on pedestrian-automobile crashes

On Dec. 13 at 3:30 p.m. in Carnegie Mellon's Hamburg Hall, Room 1001, there will be a joint interdisciplinary project course presentation by the groups studying the issue of pedestrian-automobile crashes in the city of Pittsburgh.

One group of presenters will focus on the history of pedestrian-automobile crashes, plotting trends and the factors affecting these trends. The second group of presenters will present data stemming from a recent survey of the walking habits of the campus community, an analysis of pedestrian crashes since 1994, and present design suggestions for improving campus area intersections. The groups will also present policy suggestions for improvements to Councilman Bill Peduto and CMU.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Heinz Field grease to fuel city fleet

This is cool. The 'Burgh's 300 vehicle fleet is going to be converted to biodiesel.

so much for proceeding cautiously

Although I have concerns about granting near-monopoly control of this public asset to private interest, I don't have an issue with the Governor seeking bids for the PA Turnpike (PTC). It will be good for the purpose of monetary valuation and can give us a better idea of how much capital can be made available to address PA's other transportation needs. My primary concern is that the public has the opportunity to weigh in on which offers they prefer and that contracts aren't awarded based on who donates the most to each legislator's campaign.

The dialogue needs to move beyond "Should we privatize/lease this public asset?" to "What terms or conditions make privatization/leasing public assets an option worth considering?"

Citizens need to step up and demand the following:
-The Turnpike should go to PennDOT's coffers and not the PTC. The PTC is only mandated to construct highways while PennDOT's responsibilities include much more (roads, bridges, public transit, airports, etc...). We need to strengthen our balance sheet by maintaining our current assets instead of using this potential cash infusion to expand more.
-The use of eminent domain should only be used where the public will hold on to lands for at least 30 years . We should not be using eminent domain to sieze lands that will then be turned over to private interest in a short period of time.

Any other thoughts?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Merger of Allegheny County, Port Authority and county Housing police units proposed

County Republicans are leading a charge to consolidate the police units at PAT, Housing Authority, and the County. I can't see how this would change the services offered and suspect that greater efficiencies can be brought about by eliminating a few bureaucrat positions at the County. I look forward to seeing study results on how this change could bring about greater efficiency and effectiveness to this basic public service. Perhaps this move could soften PAT's operating woes. The County would be left to deal with a portion of the pension & health cost that is cripping PAT's operating budget.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Early Reaction to the Post-Gazette Piece

I've been getting a few emails from folks who have read the article. Some of them have given me permission to reproduce their comments here, so here's a sampling...

S.R. said:
I was reading your story today and had to respond to it. First of all, a non-profit enterprise like public transportation is a fraud...period....The constant explortation of public tax dollars for a public pig like pat is disgusting. I have the solution....sell it...let a real businessman run the business and it will be a COMPLETE success. Accountibility is an issue here. With free monies, comes wasteful spending.The last negitive report about pat concerning the overtime pay...the ceo says...We are trying to save money by not hiring the workers to fill the routes, but they are paying hundred of thousands of dollars in overtime pay. Have you ever looked at this bus system?.. From 10AM- 3PM.. buses and trollies are empty..EMPTY...NADA soul on them..The system is a COMPLETE failure.. How can you justify a route carrying 3 people into town????...and the three people are using free bus passes paid for by taxpayers? If pat was disbanded...there would be VERY little if any disruption...Appearently you were not around when this system struck years sir the sky didnt fall in, kids got a free ride to school, and the elderly made there trips to where ever...the only people really effected were workers....and they also made it to work. Again sir...trash this abatrose...shoot it....burry it....and start anew....with private ownership....a businessman will men are in businesss to succeed...were as..non-profit are there to get more free taxpayers monies...with little or no accountibility....which is what we have here....the coffee is there sir...smell it

R.E. said:
Nice article on transplantation issues in today's PG.

I also hope your group will shed some light on PAT's funny math. During a previous price increase scare a couple of years ago, a $.75 fare increase was to generate about $5 million. 60 million riders times $.75 per ride on my calculator comes out to $45 million.

I wrote to Joe Grata at the time and he did not have an answer. He said he had been frustrated by the funny math also, but suggested that part of the problem was the free rides for seniors and students. In order for the public to understand and concur with various taxes or other actions, a clear understanding of who is paying for what is necessary.

I would like to add a suggestion to your group's deliberations. I ride the 28X from CMU to the Airport regularly. At the current price of about $2, it is the best buy in town. Far lower than the next lowest competitive alterative. This is not a routine bus route, but express service with limited stops. At $5, it would still be a bargain. Many riders are business people or students. The extra cost would not affect their ridership. For riders who use this service to commute to jobs at the airport or Robinson Town Center, discount commuter passes could still be offered.

The drivers of the 28X bus are among the first Pittsburghers many visitors meet. They should be trained to be ambassadors for the region. However, this is probably too much to wish for even at Christmas time.

Agree? Disagree? More ideas? Let's hear it!

"The Bill Comes Due"

The Fellowship had a Forum piece in the Sunday, December 3 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Check it out and then come back here and let us know what you think!

automobile anarchy

An article in Spiegel Intl. has noted that some small European towns are experimenting with the removal of traffic signs. Apparently it's not bad drivers who cause accidents, it's the mulitiplicity of signage and the confusion that it creates on the road.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Create your own transportation champion

I don't know why every politician isn't a 'transportation champion'. I applaud State Representative-elect Wagner, Councilwomen Carlisle and Harris and Councilman Peduto for attending our presentation to City Council. That's only three Council members who showed up out of nine. Who is your member of City Council or the Pennsylvania Assembly? Maybe give them a call and get their position on transportation improvements. More importantly, give them yours.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

City faces uphill pedestrian challenge

Here's a pic of a crumbling sidewalk on Frankstown Ave. in Larimer. Our transportation infrastructure has problems beyond potholes on our roads & crumbling bridges.

feedback from City Council Post Agenda meeting

Our City Council Post Agenda meeting was well covered in the PG this past Tuesday.

Does it bother anyone else when the local papers always write the word crisis in parentheses? as if this is being fabricated.

I also thought that I'd share some feedback from David Wohlwill, Lead Transit Planner, of the Port Authority had to say about our recommendations and presentation to Council.
"First, I want to thank and congratulate the 2006 Fellows for all of their diligence and thoughtfulness in the recommendations regarding the Port Authority and other providers of transportation services in region and the statement. I also appreciate the comments on the Transportation Funding & Reform Commission's recommendations. It is refreshing to listen to speakers motivated by how they think this area could have better transportation instead of preconceived ideology. Lastly, I like to thank Councilman Bill Peduto for inviting me to attend the presentation.

I concur with many of the recommendations regarding Port Authority including:

Providing real time passenger information to riders
Securing dedicated funding for transit
Establish Bus Rapid Transit between Downtown and Oakland using traffic signal priority
Encourage public employees, including elected officials to use public transportation
Better coordination of transit and land use planning
Safety improvements for pedestrians
(although this was not a specific recommendation for transit, it still supports transit-oriented lifestyles as transit users walk to and from their stops and stations.)

Port Authority and Westmoreland County Transit Authority have considered commuter rail service on existing freight railroad lines. A major challenge will be gaining access to the area's Class 1 railroads, Norfolk Southern and CSX which have very high freight train volumes (and you recommend even greater usage of railroads for moving freight) through the Pittsburgh region. Ensuring reliable commuter train operation will involve significant investments in new track and signal and communications systems.

In response to the recommendation for abandoning the hub and spoke system, please bear in mind the high passenger loads on most routes serving the Golden Triangle and Oakland during the peak travel periods.

With respect to creation of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) as the means for better coordination of transit service, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission convenes a Transit Operators Committee to facilitate such coordination among the region's transit providers. Additionally, Port Authority has worked with the Westmoreland County Transit Authority on the two Eastern Corridor Transit Studies and with all of the other transit providers for the Regional Visioning study. At the operational level, Penn Station on the East Busway is now a major transit hub where riders can transfer among all six of the region's transit operators which serve Downtown Pittsburgh. Allowing one of the other providers to pick up and drop off riders within Allegheny County can be accomplished by changing the existing law.

Creation of an RTA will introduce the question of how to resolve different pay scales and benefit levels among the region's operators. It should also be noted that in the Twin Cities district of Minnesota, an area whose public entities are more regionally oriented than most places in the country, some communities have opted out of the Metro Transit system and there are several smaller independent transit providers.

Ultimately, an RTA may be best institutional arrangement for to provide transit service in Southwestern Pennsylvania. However, the above points need to be considered by proponents of an RTA.

Councilman Bill Peduto cited Denver's transit system. On page 11 of the booklet I handed out, there is a photo which I took of Denver's 16th Street Transit Mall. This is a one-mile exclusive transit guideway with amenities such as landscaping, lighting, seating, vendors and street art way finding. I use this as an example of what a BRT facility could be like within the Golden Triangle and Oakland to enhance the transit experience and the urban environment as well as make the guideway attractive to developers.

While some routes feed into transit centers at opposite ends of the mall, it should be noted that many other bus routes operate to and within Denver's Downtown. A map of the Downtown routes can be found at

In 2004, the voters of the Denver region approved a plan to raise local taxes for the local share (50%) of a $4.7 billion program of rail and bus transit improvements. If this amount was spent on both roads and transit, this would still be impressive. However, for region to fund this level for transit only is truly amazing. Additionally, the Denver RTD just opened its Southeast Corridor light rail transit line (also known as T-Rex) on November 17.

Again, your efforts are appreciated."

"service scorecard" workshops

The nicest way that I can put this is that the shit will hit the fan for the Port Authority in about 1 month. Despite a better financial picture than what was originally projected, a deficit is still a deficit and NO flex funding will be coming to the rescue this year.

PAT has one more public hearing to get input on how they should be evaluating their service. So far, the workshops have been productive.

There was some coded language in their ad in the CityPaper this past week.
"It's your chance to share your thoughts on everything except fare levels and future plans for specific routes."
This was coded language to deter people from showing up to bitch about the North Shore Connector or the possibility of paying even a nickel more for bus fare.

To get a little bit of background on why they're doing this. You can read the guyasuta blog entry or go right to the PG article from Oct. 27 that announced the "service scorecard".

If you weren't able to make any of the meetings, you can still comment via the web.

finding a "champion"

Public transit may have found it's new "champion" in Harrisburg. Yesterday's PG noted that Dan Frankel will make mass transit a priority.
Mr. Frankel vowed to push for an "urban agenda" to help Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, with aid for mass transit
This comes on the heels of Gov. Ed Rendell's statements that he will seek to secure transportation & infrastructure funding in 2007.

We were also very lucky to have the State Rep-elect Chelsa Wagner in attendance for our City Council Post Agenda meeting with Darlene Harris, Twanda Carlisle, and Bill. Ms. Wagner said that she was impressed with the thoroughness of our work and has expressed a willingness to help gather Allegheny County representatives.

Now if we could only reach across the aisle to find support for transportation from Republicans, we'd be set. They still control the State Senate and will certainly be challenging the Dem's control over the State House.

Rob Rogers is a genious

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

2006 Guyasuta multimedia links

Hello all,
I just wanted to catch you up to speed on what has been happening with our multimedia efforts.

While the public has been able to view our Oct. 26th production of WQED Guyasuta Citizens' Summit on Transportation via WQED's website, Comcast hit a snag while posting the show to their On Demand service. I originally posted a message to our Yahoo mssg. board stating that the program was available as of Nov. 15th. The reality is that the program was just made available to this past Monday. I apologize for any inconvenience.

With the help of Libsyn, a podcast of our Nov. 12th radio production of the Guyasuta Fellows Citizens' Action on Transportation on WDUQ 90.5FM has been made available.

Our Nov. 27th Post Agenda meeting with Pittsburgh City Council was broadcast on City Channel Pittsburgh. Dates & times for rebroadcasts will be posted soon. City Channel Pittsburgh can be accessed by tuning in to Comcast Channel 13.

Despite not being touched for nearly 3 weeks, remains a valuable resource for posting interesting info & commentary in a timely manner. Our dialogue should be shifting to that site as we phase out our yahoo group site.
We also have the domain registered. It currently diverts all traffic to the blog, but I'd like to build that up as a resource that the public can refer to. Is anyone interested in helping me work on that?


Friday, November 10, 2006

subversive intervention

Is there anyone out there who wants to reprazent the 28X?

A little magnetic yellow card might help the plight of cyclists as well.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Optimizing freight for the economy and the environment

Optimize freight transportation system to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions

Take action to reduce the environmental footprint of freight transportation in Pennsylvania by moving more freight by rail and barge.

Current Status:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from combustion of fossil fuels is the largest source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
Fossil fuel combustion in the transport sector accounted for 28% of U.S. energy consumption (13.1 millions barrels of oil equivalent per day) and 31% of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (1,860 million metric tonnes of CO2 annually) [1, 2]. Vehicles and light trucks accounted for approximately 60% of CO2 emissions in the transport sector [2].

In 2002, 74% of freight from Pennsylvania was shipped by truck, with only 15% shipped by rail [3]. Shipping one ton of goods by truck uses approximately ten times the amount of fuel and hence produces ten times the amount of greenhouse gas than shipping the same amount of goods by rail or barge [4]. Pennsylvania has excellent rail infrastructure, and received the highest rating of all Pennsylvania infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers Scorecard, a "B"”. The Port of Pittsburgh, which spans an 11-county region in Southwestern PA, is the second largest inland port and thirteenth busiest port of any kind in the U.S. [5]. The navigable waterways infrastructure however, PA'’s locks and dams, were given a "D-"” and require significant reinvestment [6].

Policy Recommendation:
The region needs to maximize use of rail and barge to move commodities that originate and travel through Pennsylvania. This can be achieved by analyzing existing freight routes to identify bottlenecks, and investment in existing and new multimodal freight terminals to facilitate rail and barge shipment of goods. Existing brownfield sites that are located nearby freight lines should be identified and targeted for development. Pennsylvania should analyze and consider the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey'’s Port Inland Distribution Network (PIDN) proposal, as it could have significant economic and environmental benefits for the Commonwealth [7]. The PIDN would load ocean freight onto rail cars in New Jersey, where they would be shipped to a Western Pennsylvania multimodal terminal for distribution - reducing shipping costs, roadway wear-and-tear, and air pollution. Funding sources that could be leveraged for new freight initiatives could come from public-private partnerships, liquid fuels taxes, additional federal grants, and expanded user fee tolling
. Other funding ideas could be a reduction in the diesel fuel tax for rail and barge operations, so they could be more attractive to shipping companies. There is a potential for significant savings in highway and bridge maintenance if rail and barge freight is better utilized.

Response to criticisms:

Criticism: We don't have any money for new incentives and investments in freight rail and barge infrastructure.

Response: By reducing the number of trucks on PA roadways, there will be significant savings from reduced required maintenance. Although trucks are and will continue to be essential to freight and commerce in the Commonwealth, an optimized freight system using trucks, rail, and barges will benefit the economy and the environment.

[1] "Annual Energy Review, 2004," Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy. DOE/EIA-0384 (2004). 2005.

[2] "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks:1990-2004," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA 430-R-06-002, April 15, 2006 2006.

[3] U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation. 2002.

[4] Transportation Energy Data Book, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy. 2004.

[5] Port of Pittsburgh Commission, 2006.

[6] American Society of Civil Engineers PA Infrastructure Report Card, 2006.

[7] Port Authority of New York and New Jersey PIDN, 2006.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Getting commuter rail on track

Leveraging Railroad Potentials in Western PA
Guyasuta Fellowship
Bud Paulding 10-13-06

PRIORITY: To use existing rail corridors in the Metro and Regional areas to provide efficient mass commuter transit.

RECOMMENDATION: The just-released (9/06) Eastern Corridor Transit Study Transitional Analysis (say that 3x fast) FINAL REPORT concludes that there are three-to-four uses of existing rail which performed well in public support and projected costs and benefits. These possibilities are “underknown” and need widespread publicity in public, commercial, governmental, and political circles to generate support and action.

CURRENT STATUS: The concept seems to be gaining screen-space on the Local Radar. I have as yet not talked to the Influentials and Planners who know what’s shaking and what’s possible in the short and mid-term. (The Eastern Corridor Study has a target of 2025).

PROBLEMS: Let’s See: Cost; Conceptual Acceptance; Co-Operation (Railroads, Municipalities, Existing Transit Lines, PennDOT, US Govt.); Construction. Oh, and Cost.

SOLUTION: Locate and enlist Influentials and Players willing to work across turf lines to educate different audiences and expedite the planning process. Heavy use of Telling the Story and Media, including Ads, PSAs, articles (newspaper, mags, web, prestigious pubs, TV roundtables, etc.) Short videos, cool animated artwork: actually, a marketing campaign (!).

EXPECTED IMPACTS OF PROPOSED SOLUTION: Even in the short run, the heavy traffic on Carson Street, 2nd Avenue, Parkway East, and Route 28 could be considerably reduced, with savings in time, frustration, air pollution, parking space downtown, energy use, and maintenance.
The best things about this approach: The tremendous cost of right-of-way acquisition and infrastructure construction is…Done! Park-and-Ride lots and simple station facilities and storage for railcars would be doable and not expensive. The rail lines already run to important parts of town; and in the future, shuttle links and walking connections to bus and T lines would not be difficult.

FLASH!: a US company, Colorado Railcar, is manufacturing the DMU cars (Diesel Multiple Units) designed and perfect for commuter and intercity service: each car is independently powered by up-to-date efficient diesel engines, and they can be run

Leveraging Railroad Potentials in Western PA
Guyasuta Fellowship
Bud Paulding 10-13-06

singly or in multiples, as traffic requires. They are already in service in several US
cities, and are already approved for use on American freight lines by the Federal Government!

Funding: Raise the Car Registration cost and shift some PennDOT money to
support these projects. Get in line for Federal $ and work Harrisburg for some
money. Use pub-private, and “velvet hammer” approaches with the railroads for operational and infrastructural changes. I keep hearing that they may be more ready to play than Mr. Roddey suggested.

Very Cool: Once the RR issues are settled, a demo-project could be done; and since the cars and the stations are “modular,” the concept could be tested, find acceptance, and implemented gradually, stretching/saving many $$: Remember, the infrastructure is 95% built.

RESPONSES TO NEGATIVE CRITICISM: Competing transit lines may complain. PAT would be able to lighten some lines, however. The RRs will have issues about scheduling conflicts with freight; however, commuter traffic would only need to run from 6-9AM and 4-7PM. Modern electronic track/traffic controls and GPS can handle things once schedules are settled. The cost issues I have sketched out above but more detail needs to be done.

1. I envision a stop in Panther Hollow near CMU, with shuttle busses running to CMU and Oakland and connecting to PAT.
2. I envision a series of stops from the Waterfront to Station Square, where folks can connect to busses and the T.
3. Other RR Lines exist to the North and South Hills which might be suitable.
4. That’s the thing: this concept is relatively inexpensive and simple to implement. Basically it only requires as few as one DMU, RR Track, Park&Ride, and RR co-operation.


Focus: Improving Metro and Regional Passenger and Freight Transportation

This is a complex subject, bearing on several aspects of transportation in both the immediate Pittsburgh Metro and wider County and Regional areas. It appears we feel as a Fellowship that it is rather a matter of underutilization, rather than a “broken link” in our transportation system. Personally I suspect there may be some “stealth solutions” available, but it will take detailed study and interviewing to see what steps may be taken in the short and mid-term.

Focus: Opportunities to Leverage existing rail corridors.
This could benefit commuters, relieve some rush-hour pressure on local arteries, improve air quality and save fuel, and add some additional jobs to construct a few facilities and operate new services and facilities.
Focus: What we might do.
I begin with recognizing that Pittsburgh is at the center of some high-quality, and some moderate quality, railroad lines. Some of these could quite possibly be used for mass transit concurrently with freight service, thus providing efficient commuter access to Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland without exceptionally large capital outlays. Doing so would have the benefit of taking that many more cars off the daily auto rush-hour-routes. With intermodal freight growing strongly, the State and region could possibly leverage its Keystone position to create more revenue and jobs by investing in upgrading intermodal terminal facilities.

For example: Park-and-Rides at the Waterfront, and at nodes along Carson Street, give access to quick transit to the South Side and connect to the T.

Similar approach at Fox Chapel, Aspinwall, Etna-- service to North Shore, connecting to the T when it gets there.

The heart of the idea would be independently-powered, couplable, passenger cars like the Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) of the 50’s-70’s. More efficient and green versions may be available on the world market. GE is phasing in a Hybrid deisel-electric locomotive.

Several of our guests indicated they saw potential to leverage existing rail corridors, and indicated the railroads might well co-operate if plans were practical and reflected their freight-moving priorities.

Friday, November 03, 2006

assesment of players

The following is an assessment of players involved in transportation funding & reform in SW PA:
  • Gov. Ed Rendell; urgency: medium; strength: strong; comments: has indicated that funding for transportation & infrastructure improvements are a priority for 2007.

  • Rural PA Legislators; urgency: low; strength: strong; comments: regard transit as a Pittsburgh/Philly problem, more concerned with roadways

  • Suburban PA Legislators; urgency: medium; strength: medium

  • Urban PA Legislators; urgency:high; strength:weak

  • County Exec. Dan Onorato; urgency: high; strength:medium; comments: transportation crisis will arrest the economic engine of the region

  • Transportation Action Team; urgency: low; strength: weak; comments: only mandated to devise strategies to see Onorato's transportation plan to fruition

  • Transit-Users; urgency: high; strength: weak; comments: facing higher fares & service cuts if no action is taken from PA legislature. Users don't wield political clout.

  • Transit Non-Users; urgency: medium; strength; strong; comments: aware that a public transit crisis may affect their commute

  • Trucking Companies; urgency: high; strength: medium; comments: bridge restrictions affect their routing. Implemtation of Just-In-Time travel info would benefit industry greatly.

  • Rail Carriers; urgency: low; strength: medium; comments: rail infrastructure is in good condition & carriers are currently profitable.

  • Barge Carriers; urgency: high; strength: medium; comments: locks & dams are in very poor shape

  • SPC; urgency:medium; strength: medium; comments: only mandated to dole out Federal dollars

  • PA Turnpike Commission; urgency: low; strength: strong; comments: facing possible privatization to raise funds for transportation crisis. This is the only profitable component of our statewide transportation system.

  • PennDOT; urgency: medium; strength: strong; comments: they know they have a problem with bridges. They just want input on how to generate the funds necessary to pay for repairs & upgrades.

  • Construction Contractors; urgency: low; strength; strong; comments: intense demand for construction contractors has driven up the price of many projects

  • Port Authority Transit; urgency: high; strength: weak; comments: fully aware that their cost of service is too high, but are constrained in how they can bring cost down

  • SEPTA; urgency: high; strenth: medium; comments: also facing a fiscal crisis, but high ridership gives this agency bargaining leverage with Harrisburg

  • Transit Unions; urgency: high; strength: medium; comments: membership will shrink if services are cut. They still wield good bargaining power with 1. the allowance of voting privileges extended to retired workers 2. their power to strike 3. PAT's inability to competively contract out services

  • Regional Public Transit Authorities; urgency: medium; strength: weak; comments: services are run relatively efficiently outside of Allegheny County. These authorities view themselves as being in competition with PAT & SEPTA for funding.

  • Downtown Business Community; urgency: medium; strength: strong; comments: 40-50% of Downtown workers use public transit to commute to the home of several multinational corporations

  • Oakland's Institutional Community; urgency: medium; strength: strong; comments: 25% of commuters use public transportation to get to work & school. Community would like to be better connected to developments along Second Ave.

  • Faith Based Community (PIIN) ; urgency: medium; strength: medium; comments: views transportation crisis as a social-justice issue. Actively works to deliver votes to legislators who come through.

  • Save Our Transit; urgency: high; strength: weak; comments: grassroots group composed of transit-dependents has pushed for an uncapping of funds allocated from the PA sales tax to be dedicated to mass transit

  • Allegheny Transit Council; urgency: medium; strength: weak;

  • Manufacturers; urgency: high; strength: strong; comments: desparately seeking MFX to move goods in & out of region with good rail & waterway access. Weight restrictions on bridges compounds problems of manufacturers.

  • Federal Govt.; urgency: low; strength: strong; comments: transportation funds have been cut to divert resources to "War on Terror". Population growth in the Sunbelt has diverted funds from Northeast & Midwest to the South & West.

public transit cycle

The following is a cycle that has taken place in Allegheny Co. over the past 35-40 years:
apathetic support from citizens/business'>inadequate political will>lack of dedicated funding support for mass transit>service ineficiencies/cuts>declining ridership>apathetic support from citizens/business'>inadequate political will>lack of dedicated funding support for mass transit>service ineficiences/cuts>and again...

The cycle does not start in any one place so we shouldn't point the finger at any one person.

Our aim should be to reverse the cycle:
strong support from citizens/business'>political will>dedicated funding suppport>service efficiencies acheived>increased ridership>strong support from citizens/business'>political will>dedicated funding suppport>services efficiencies acheived>increased ridership>and again...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

meeting notes from Oct. 4 meeting w/ Jim Roddey

Here's my notes covering key points from this evening's session with Jim Roddey.

Roddey Comments:
- I'm optimistic, but looking at the lay of the land, there is much cause to not be optimistic on this subject
- To say this large issue will be solved in November is optimistic at best; the Senate isn't even scheduled to be in session
- Only way this is conceivably going to happen is through great pressure, particularly on the Senate
- Resolution would likely be in January, in a climate with about 65 new elected representatives, many of whom ran on a "no new taxes" platform
- Port Authority and SEPTA aren't that bad, they're very efficient, but public perception is that empty buses and other anecdotal evidence says they're inefficient
- Very impressive committee membership on Governor Rendell's Transportation Funding & Reform Commission
- We don't just have to solve the issue of public transit, they threw in the issue of roads & bridges, too - they may as well have included global warming and cancer
- There are some issues surrounding the hiring practices and efficiency of the Turnpike Commission
- Flex funding was tough for Western PA; we take in much more funding that we provide proportionally to the population for public transit services
- General consensus is that there will be no flex funding this time around
- Commission is divided on whether the best way to get this done is through crisis or through solution. A crisis may be the only way to get the legislature to act
- The $500 million tunnel under the river does not help our cause with the public.
- The job would be a lot easier with the legislature if this tunnel did not happen; however, this may be the last time we get a chance for this kind of capital funding
- The highway issue is much easier to solve than the transit issue. The solution for that will likely be in the gas tax - there's broad support to solve this issue
- Many of the highway solutions in the legislature are tied to new road construction and that's going to compound the problem
- Selling / leasing the turnpike would bring anywhere from $25 to $30 billion dollars - but the key would be to have the discipline to put that revenue into a transit trust
- Selling the turnpike would eliminate the Turnpike Commission. That and a one-time $30 billion check are very compelling
- It's very likely that American companies would take an active interest in competing for the Turnpike lease
- We need to look at tolling. Texas has created a toll corridor where no new roads can be built that are not toll roads. This is a common process in Europe
- The process of exporing a public / private partnership to examine privatizing the Turnpike could in and of itself create a more efficient system as a result
- We're going to recommend that for less than $8 million per year that we expand paratransit service from about 42 counties to all counties in the state
- One of the reasons we can do this is because the disabilities community is such a model effort and the legislature hears from that community
- Legacy costs for transit employees in the Port Authority system are a significant burden to the system's obligations and costs
- I think we need an audit of our transit operation and I think we have the funding to do that. That audit would focus on a multi-county, regional perspective
- Boards and key decision makers in transit funding just don't use public transit. That didn't used to be the case - leaders, board members of Port Authority rode buses
- I don't see any way we're not going to see an increase in fares
- We're going to see a recommendation for more local funding for transit, including from Allegheny County
- In Pennsylvania, unlike most other major metropolitan areas, the City of Pittsburgh does not provide funding to support the Allegheny County local contribution
- If I-80 is tolled, there's the technology through EZ Pass to allow local exceptions for short trips
- The gas tax puts substantial funds toward the state police; several affluent municipalities benefit from the exclusive coverage of state police without cost to themselves
- Three month stop-gap solution in November session would bring the issue to a head at the beginning of the legislative session
- The public testimony largely restated the problem but offered almost no solutions. Some MPO heads offered strong testimony
- Being able to bid out some transit services will be very helpful in cost savings, as it was in Colorado

Port Authority service scorecard

The Port Authority has developed a "Service Scorecard" to evaluate bus-trolley routes and help management make fair decisions about ones to cut or eliminate.

Service is to be rated in three categories -- effectiveness, efficiency and equity -- with subcategories to be assigned points on a scale of 1 to 10. The points will be averaged and routes sorted from highest rank to lowest rank.

Here are the three categories and subcategories to be rated and ranked:

Effectiveness -- Serving the needs of the community. Subcategories are average daily ridership, ridership trends, transfer opportunities and utilization of park-n-ride facilities.

Efficiency -- Cost effectiveness. Subcategories are rides per trip, rides per vehicle hour and cost per rider.

Equity -- Fair and equitable distribution of service. Subcategories are Title VI coverage (nondiscrimination based on race, color and national origin), senior citizen riders, riders with disabilities and countywide coverage.

It's unfortunate that the Port Authority has waited until the crap is nearly about to hit the fan before truly assessing the services that they offer. This is an important tool to determine the quality of the services that they offer and also build support civically.
This kind of report should be put out annually.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Port Authority wants to dump Wabash Tunnel

PAT's on the verge of ditching this public relations fiasco by passing the buck on to PennDOT. Would PennDOT even want to take this one on?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

notes from 10/25 DUQ studio taping

The following are notes taken from an in-studio taping of a converstation with some past guests of the Guyasuta Fellowship program. Excerpts will likely be broadcast on WDUQ on Nov. 12, 2006. The converstation was moderated by Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh Citypaper and Khari Mosley (2002 Fellow and current head of the Pittsburgh League of Young Voters).


Ken Zapinski (Allegheny Conference on Community Development) opening statement
- Focus on his statement about the business community recognizing the importance of taking a wholistic and longterm approach to transportation.

Steve Bland (Port Authority of Allegheny County) opening statement
- Reiterated the wholistic approach

Bracken Burns (Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission) opening statement
- We are speaking as a collective regional voice on transportation
- "There is no group existing today that is taking a regional approach to transportation...they don't interact, there is a glaring inadequacy there."

Pat Kane (American Society of Civil Engineers) opening statement
- National survey of infrastructure starting in 1998, this past year the regional American Society of Civil Engineers organization has taken

Potter Question 1 - What's wrong with us in the region?
- Burns response; There is no regional mechanism. "I want the people who have an interest in transit to be in the room together on a regular basis. We don't have that forum. SPC figures out how to distribute the money, but then we go home."

Potter Question 2 - What's preventing the SPC from doing that?
- Burns response; SPC is currently having initial discussions on these issues.

Mosley Question 3 - What can we do to foster this regional approach?
- Bland response; Burns hit the nail on the head. When you start talking about a large authority, there's a natural suspicion. Why would we want to adopt your cost structure? We could begin by a unified fare structure, coordinated schedule and routing. Pittsburgh has a major public transit resource compared to a city like Cleveland. In crisis, it's hard to keep focus on the longer term issues.

Potter Question 4 - Talk about the cost structure?
- Bland response; The bigger issue for the Port Authority is not wages but cost of benefits. That's not a problem unique to Port Authority but it calls into question do we sustain our system?

Potter Question 5 - What's the Allegheny Conference take?
- Zapinski response; Bland is right, this is not unique to Port Authority. In a private company, one of the issues would be "do we want to file for bankruptcy?". Private industries have done this to change their benefit structure, but Port Authority is prevented from doing this by the PA Constitution. This is a problem that we can't solve because of this Constitutional provision?
- Bland response; As a region we have to figure out what we want and how we're going to be able to afford that.

Potter Question 6 - Are we asking for the unions to make major concessions?
- Zapinski response; I'm making the point that Port Authority does not have the ability to confront this issue as a business would. I don't think these issues have been recognized and approached by the community as a real important issue.
- Burns response; The real culprit is the cost of health care in a broken system. We're all sitting here trying to figure out how to make it work - this is a business issue, this is a health care issue.
- Bland response; The region is also not addressing planning as a transportation issue. Suburban growth necessitates more expensive operations for mass transit - that is a cost of growth that's not being recognized for its impact on transit.

Potter Question 7 - What does Port Authority do to approach a more efficient system?
- Bland response; I'm on the road occasionally and it's empty, but I don't think we should tear up the roadway because of it. Even when you see few riders on a bus, it's part of a system that is very efficient. If you take a nurse's aid who must take the bus and she no longer has the ability to take the bus, you have to recognize what the cost is to society if she can't take that bus. What is the larger societal cost of those three people on the bus not being able to use it if service is cut. There is a cost to it that is not just simple accounting.

Potter Question 8 - The state contributes more on average to transit - can we expect local areas to pay more?
- Bland response; Pennsylvania state pays more because it has more restrictions on how municipalities can raise money to fund transit locally. Very often we find our hands tied.
- Burns response; As somebody who's pretty close to municipal government, there are probably only about 3 municipalities in Washington County that could even think about funding transit and those areas don't use mass transit. For a state legislator with a straight face to suggest local government to fund transportation is either joking or out of touch.
- Zapinski response; When you start talking about transportation systems, a county is a small level and you can't go any smaller than that. Counties only have the option of generating funding through property taxes. Washington County residents have no way to fund transit beyond raising property taxes and that's tremendously limiting.
- Burns response; Our number one priority is to provide counties with the ability to tax in other areas. We're locked in real estate and that's unfair to the little old lady on a fixed income.

Potter Question 9 - Is there a sense among businesses to contribute to transit through business revenue?
- Zapinnski response; The business community is interested in supporting a transportation network that is efficient and effective. The community is willing to bear the appropriate burden to carry that out. But that issue of benefits has to be addressed, ignoring it is no way to solve the problem. There are efficiencies and improvements that are precursors before you can even start on the revenue side.

Potter Question 10 - Bailing Ken out
- Kane response; While PennDOT has been implementing right-sizing and getting more cost-effective, bridges in particular, there are already steps that have been taken.

Potter Question 11 - What's the Federal role?
- Kane response; Pennsylvania used to fair fairly well, but we don't get what we once did.
- Burns response; It's called other states making up for lost time.

Mosley Question 12 - Let's talk about large structural reforms from a bricks and mortar perspective?
- Kane response; We did some flexing of funds from the highway side to the transit side, but the reality is that there is not enough money in either of these pots.

Potter Question 13 - Are we justified in complaining about the roads?
- Kane response; We're comparable to the national grade here in Pennsylvania. I would say that our overall is a D, but it stinks everywhere.
- Burns response; Our roads are much more difficult to maintain, there are more miles, more bridges.

Potter Question 14 - What's is "structurally deficient"?
- Kane response; It means that the bridge isn't what it once was.
- Zapinski response; Take a manufacturing company and they have two different sets of directions because trucks can't take the easiest route across the Rankin Bridge. This is a dollar and cents issue for a company like American Textile and a community like Duquesne. Funding is up three times the rate of inflation, but the rate of inflation for for infrastrucute is entirely different. We need to replace and maintain the infrastructure - imagine that all the roofs in a subdivision all go at the same time. It's alot more difficult to write a check to prevent something that's not going to happen until about 5 years down the road.

Potter Question 15 - Pimping the Mon-Fayette - should we be looking at new construction at a time like this?
- Burns response; I think we need them both. We can't end up with a road to Large, let's bite the bullet and finish it. The other side of the coin is that we do need to do a better job of maintenance. Here we are 60 years later and it's all falling apart - you're gonna have to pay the piper.
- Kane response; The best grade we had on our PA report card is for heavy rail. Down the road we have to look at where the development is going to happen.
- Zapinski response; One of the ironic things is that the Mon Valley developed because it had great transportation for what was needed at the time. Now we have a different sort of economy where most of the materials are carried by truck. Truck traffic in the Mon Valley is very difficult to manage.

Potter Question 16 - There's a sense that what's done for road come out of what could be done for mass transit?
- Bland response; What's really needed is a comprehensive, long term funding source for the whole transit system. It's damaging when we get into a debate between roads and transit. Let's argue for a bigger pie, that's where we're at on a state level.

Mosley Question 17 - How can we really start to foster that collaboration on long term planning?
- Burns response; The same folks that oppose the Mon Fayette would tell you the answer to urban planning is brownfield redevelopment, yet we're going to deny a roadway to our urban core in the Mon Valley. If we need to do in-field development we need to complete that road.
- Zapinski response; Transportation planning and civic democracy don't work very well together. If you don't do the whole thing, you don't get the whole benefit. The airport busway goes to Carnegie, not the airport. If you don't have the dollars to do it all, maybe you shouldn't do it at all.

Potter Question 18 - At what point do we fish or cut bait on the Mon Fayette?
- Burns response; I have to come back to you don't want to do an expressway to Large.
- Bland response; Try to take a wholistic look on a transportation investment. If you're assuming that the Mon Fayette will bring development, it will not be cheap to provide transportation to those new areas of development, we won't be able to afford to expand the system.

Mosley Question 19 - Is it worth the trade off to cut off the riverfront in exchange for the Mon Fayette?
- Burns response; It's a N.I.M.B.Y argument

Potter Question 20 - Commuter rail taking advantage of rail resources?
- Kane response; There would have to be agreements made.
- Bland response; There would be no busways without our region's extensive rail capacity. Bus rapid transit is the hot new thing in transit. You need to ask the questions 1) do we want to pay more for transportation resources, or 2) is there something we're doing that we want to cut back on in order to be able to pay for these new things?
- Bland response; Given the federal process, I can't see an extension of these systems in the next 10 years because of the Federal process for funding these types of projects.

Potter Question 21 - What role should the private sector be paying for these things?
- Zapinski response; We are encouraged by the concept of looking at public / private partnerships. There's pending legislation that would make that easier to do. Is is good to sell off the Turnpike? That's separate from the question of whether the state should have the ability to sell off the Turnpike if it wants to - we think that the ability to do so is good.

Mosley Question 22 - Give us some examples
- Zapinski response; Chicago, Dulles Access Road. Chicago Skyway was long-term leased to Australian/Spanish consortium for over a $1.9 Billion that goes to Chicago. The debates should take place around what you do with that money if you get that money, spending that one-time asset sale appropriately.
- Kane response; The real value of the asset is hard to determine.
- Zapinski response; Any deal must pass muster.

Mosley Question 23 - If we expand transportation we can be more competitive but how do you invest when you're losing people?
- No response.

Potter Question 24 - Allegheny Institute has proposed competitive contracting for bus services - is this a solution?
- Bland response; Those 33 private businesses failed. It used to be profitable, but that ceased to be the case. The government stepped in or there would have been no transit. Profit gets plowed back into the community in public transit; it's profitable from a community perspective but not a business perspective. If you live on the 204 routes that are not profitable, you'd be out of luck on a for-profit system. There's nowhere in the world that a pubic transit system works on a privatized basis, it's not a business model that works.
- Zapinski response; Public transit is not a profit making enterprise. There may be some benefits to competitive out-sourcing of service to introduce competition.

Potter Question 24 - What can members of the community do to have a role?
- Kane response; ASCE wants to raise the awareness of the general public. Let your legislators know that you recognize this problem, they're generally fearful of the wrath of the public.
- Burns response; Be a citizen. The one thing I would ask is to recognize that we're all in this together, it's about the Pittsburgh region. As long as we look at our own little community we will never get where we're going as a region. It makes the region I live in better. We need to encourage our legislators to be more responsive to this issue, it's not going to go away magically, it doesn't fit under the rug any more.
- Bland response; I think too often we base our opinion on headlines and sound bytes, but you have an obligation to learn the issues and understand there are choices that have to be made. People who are going to actively engage in the debate do have the obligation to learn the issue from a variety of perspectives to understand the issue.
- Zapinski response; Numbers represent real people, you have to understand that decisions effect people. If you're effected personally by a transportation decision, think about how the impact is on the rest of the region. Think about what you want for the region in terms of how it effects the region. If you are someone who has never gotten on a bus in your life, before you say you're not paying a dime to support transit, think about the one-quarter of the students and workers who use transit every day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Upcoming Allegheny County public input workshops

Several upcoming public meetings will be held regarding Allegheny Places, the County's first comprehensive plan. "Allegheny Places will address housing, recreation, transit, jobs, history, trails, and more by setting county-wide policies for land development, conservation, and economic initiatives. The Public Meetings will feature a presentation and interactive workshop sessions on the preliminary future land use plan for the County." Public Meeting have been scheduled at five different locations throughout the County, beginning in early November. Go to the website for dates and locations and help shape our region through your input.

Information about gas taxes

The Brookings Institution released a report called Fueling Transportation Finance: A Primer on the Gas Tax, which is available for free here. The report's authors say, "Although every state levies a gas tax and depends on it as an essential funding source to pay for transportation projects and programs, many citizens and professionals still find the gas tax confusing and contentious. The confusion results in part from differences in the state rules governing the imposition, rate, and administration of the tax. To help dispel this confusion and controversy, this paper undertakes to describe the use of federal and state gas taxes, and assess their impacts on state and local transportation systems and funding. At the end the paper considers various ways to improve the current use and distribution of gas tax revenues to support the development of more balanced, multi-modal transportation networks."

The report finds that Pennsylvania's gas tax in 2002 was lower than it was in 1992, when adjusted for inflation. An adjustment using the inflation calculator at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that this is still the case in 2006, with the current gas tax of 31.4 cents per gallon less than the 1992 inflation-adjusted gas tax of 32 cents per gallon. This comes at a time when there is a dire need for reinvestment in infrastructure, both locally and nationally, and construction costs are rising at rates greater than inflation. Translation - less gas tax money available for more and more work needing to be done. They also say that 30 states restrict their state gas tax receipts for highway funding only. Their recommendations include allowing state fuel tax receipts to be used to develop a healthy statewide transportation system, not just for highways. Another of their recommendations is to exempt municipal car, truck, and bus fleets from the state gas tax, so that the municipalities could have lower operating costs and also provide tax relief to residents. The net impacts of such a proposal should be analyzed to see if it would be a good idea in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

why light rail to the stadiums? why not Oakland?

the following was submitted by writer Julie Mickens to our yahoo site in July 2006:

So, I know this question is gonna come up. Why the stadiums? Why
not Oakland?

Too often the reply is "it's not that simple ...," delivered in a
patronizingly dismissive tone. Actually, NOW it's not that simple ...
it would be a difficult (though not impossible) matter to change course.
But historically, it WAS that simple. Ten years ago, light rail to
Oakland was killed by a single decision of two guys.

Yep, TWO guys. Two guys killed LRT to Oakland plans in 1996. In the
1990s, the feds were funding very expensive light rail projects across
the country, because the federal transportation funding bill at that
time emphasized transit more than in the past or currently. Here,
Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer, the first Republicans to be elected to
head county govt in decades, decided that "Spine Line" plans to take
light rail to Oakland and to Allegheny General Hospital on the N Side
(much further than the stadiums) should be killed. They stacked PAT
appointments and got their way within months of taking office. Little
public explanation was given, although in one PG comment, they
objected to the fact that the light rail would be contained within the
core of the city, not pass through the suburbs.

The stadium-tunnel bit is a remnant of the earlier, more ambitious
project. It was revived in one of Tom Murphy's great acts of stadium
visioning in the late 90s (Plan T, let's call this). He convinced the
Allegheny Conference and the rest is history. Despite current
arguments that the tunnel is to expand the system, go to the airport,
etc, it is worth remembering that it was originally pitched
*unashamedly* as a "North Shore," not North Side, tunnel, with none of
those other justifications.

(The tunnel's gonna help in going to the airport? Do people even look
at MAPS??? How gullible can we be? After crossing the Allegheny, you'd
have to swing back and cross the OHIO to go to the airport -- not easy
or cheap.)

Now, after the fact, some in PAT and city govt say that the original Spine
Line proposal was so expensive that it would've foundered eventually,
even if Dunn and Cranmer hadn't killed it. Possibly, especially given
the change in politics in Washington after 2000. (After all, even our
current tunnel dig seems not-totally-secure right now.) However, I'm
not convinced that Spine Line was doomed: Look at the many expensive
light-rail projects built across the country in the 1990s -- they
weren't cheap, either. It's sad to think that Pittsburgh could've
perhaps had a good light-rail project, too, if not for two guys.

So ... I won't do this with any of my other writings on
transportation, but I really want to pass on this article I wrote in
the CP last year on this topic, "Lost Tracks." To my knowledge it's
the only comprehensive account of this issue that places the North
Shore Connector
in the context of recent history. Some of the
government-required reports that I read in the Pennsylvania Room
seemed never to have been touched.

In response to: "It never could've been built, anyway," we received
this letter the week after the story:

One-track minds:
I read the "Lost Tracks" piece [Main Feature, Sept. 28] with interest,
as I was the project manager for Kaiser Engineers for the Spine Line
study. Writer Julie Mickens did an excellent job.

I've worked on successful public-transit projects in Dallas, Miami,
New Jersey and Turkey, and less successful ones in Seattle, Milwaukee
and Houston. The successful ones overcame comparable problems to Spine
Line's, but each was in a community where the commitment to public
transit was unwavering. The unsuccessful projects resembled Spine
Line, with a region wanting public transit but not committed to
supporting it.

The Port Authority needs a firm public commitment in terms of having a
dedicated revenue source. It is unfortunate that many in this region
still do not understand that a well-funded and extensive
public-transit system would enhance the region's image, support its
workers and employers and leverage substantial new growth. If "car
towns" like L.A., Houston, Dallas and even Las Vegas can see that, why
can't we?

-- Michael Lambert, Morningside

Two footnotes on the story:
The print version contained cool maps, not in the online version.
Including a great image of the proposed 1908 subway system.

Also, someone wrote in to say that the NSC wouldn't be the *first*
underwater tunnel. Apparently there is/was a tunnel under the
Allegheny near Verona that served a nearby coal mine.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

library of links

Investing in Our Future
Tranportation Funding & Reform Commission Initial Findings & Request for Public Input

Center for Transportation Excellence
A policy research center created to serve the needs of communities and transportation organizations nationwide

A Profile of the Pittsburgh Region
a synthesis of Brookings Institution's findings regarding PGH

ASCE Report Card for PA Infrastructure
The Keystone is Crumbling

Back to Prosperity
A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania

Sustainable Pittsburgh's Transportation Funding Initiative

2030 Transportation and Development Plan for Southwestern Pennsylvania (the Regional Plan)
Tranportation & Development Plan for Southwestern PA

Allegheny County Railroad Corridor Study amended 8/05

Allegheny County Railroad Corridor Study Summary amended 8/05

On the Move
A Basic Guide to Transportation Planning

Small airports making the most of limited improvement dollars

Pittsburgh Business Times, Feb. 24, 2006

2020 Transit Vision Study
The Regional Strategic Vision for Public Transportation Serving Southwestern Pennsylvania

Eastern Corridor Transit Study
Transitional Analysis to Locally Preferred Alternatives

Multimodal Airport Corridor Project

major investment study

Funds still needed for commuter rail study

VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH, October 13, 2004

Port Authority facing deficit of $31 million
Post-Gazette, June 24, 2006

Rendell calls for further study of passenger train proposal
TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Sunday, May 4, 2003

Study Outlines Transit's Future
Regional report list improvement "menu"

Train Study Results Blasted
Tribune-Review, June 30, 2003

Can we get there from here? Transportation panel eyeing tough choices
Post-Gazette article, Aug. 5, 2006

Citizens Alternative to the Mon-Fayette Toll Road

Is the Money There? Financing of the Mon/Fayette & Southern Beltway Toll Roads

CONSAD's Final Report to the Urban Land Institute

Mon-Fay's Future in Legislature's Hands
Turnpike Commission Chief Executive Officer Joe Brimmeier said it's up to the state Legislature to decide whether to finish what it started in 1985:

Mon-Fayette Expressway Funds Fall Short
Study finds inflated price for two toll roads can't be met

PennDOT's 10-Step Process
10-Step Tranportation Development Process

Road Solution May Be Taxing
Post-Gazette article, Aug 24, 2006

Job Access in the Cranberry Area Executive Summary
Critical Issues Affecting Workforce Development and Economic Development in SW PA

Job Access in the Cranberry area
complete report on critical issues affecting workforce and economic development in SW PA

Onorato Announces Transportation Action Team

Group to focus on viable next steps for Chief Executive’s six-point transportation plan

Project Region
the Southwestern Pennsylvania Plan

Regional Transit Vision (SPC)
A Regional Strategic Vision for Public Transportation Serving Southwestern Pennsylvania

State Motor Fuel Excise Tax Rates
Chart indicating taxes on unleaded & diesel fuels for all US states

Transportation Priorities Project II
Clark County, Washington (Dec. 2004)

Allegheny County Councilman Lambastes PAT Over Wages
Oct 15, 2006

Another Option for Road Funding

Study Proposes Regional Taxes

Cars Facing Stricter Emissions Limits
By 2008, new vehicles sold in Pennsylvania will meet California's tough regulations

Getting Around: More Cooperation Could Improve Transit, Save Money

Getting Around: Governor may be leaving door open for gasoline tax hike

Getting Around: Transportation news riles people up, and they speak

Ideas flow for road funding as transportation panel hears from public

Lawmakers study private investment for roads
Plan would ease cost for new infrastructure

Overtime Bedevils Port Authority
Top Pay for Bus Driver is More Than $90,000

Penn Ave. Reconstruction Put on Hold
Garfield leaders upset at city puts project on hold

Privitization Backlash in Indiana

Plan to turn over toll road to foreign firms spawns political storm

Record transit fare hikes loom if state fails to hike aid
Port Authority links single $2.50 fare to its state funding

Transit hearings on possible fare increases shift into reverse

State, county want Port Authority to wait

Transportation Report Describes 'Crisis' in PA

Post Gazette article, Aug 23, 2006

U.S. gives green light to tunnel under river

Whereas roads are bad, transit is broke, panel meets
Post-Gazette, June 5, 2006

region has big ideas for investing extra PennDOT money

PennDOT is about to receive $88 million from the Feds after money was unspent on discretionary projects nationwide. While this is welcome news, it unfortunately will not make a dent in the overall condition of our roads & highways as the Transportation Funding & Reform Commission is stating that we'll need an additional $536 million a year just to maintain our system of roads & bridges. [1] It's time that our region stopped thinking big about Federal scraps and started thinking big about how we're going to maintain what we have.

[1] Investing in Our Future

overtime gnaws away at PAT's operating budget

The Port Authority is now claiming that a lack of dedicated funding has forced management to pay overtime to PAT bus drivers just to keep the system running. [1][2] To compound the problem, some of our fine elected officials blasting PAT management while not bothering to even meet with them. [3]

Before we can reach out to the "T", we're going to have to find a way to reach out to Ross.

[1] Overtime bedevils Port Authority
[2] Port Authority defends overtime
[3] Allegheny County councilman lambastes Port Authority over wages

regional transportation taxes proposed

The PA Economy League recently released a study that offers regional taxes as a solution to our transportation problems. [1]

Could this be a way to let Pittsburgh and Philadelphia deal with "their" public transportation problems while letting the T off the hook? [2]

[1] Investing in Transportation: a Benchmarking Study of Transportation Funding & Policy
[2] Another option for road funding

PA restricts use of bridges in bad repair

Since the December 2005 collapse of a Washington Co. bridge over route 70, PennDOT has now placed weight restrictions on 21 spans in 4 SWPA counties.

notes from Oct. 13th meeting with PennDOT Secretary Al Biehler

Notes from this evening are as follows, hope I got them down well;

Points of discussion from Secty. Biehler
- The 1980s saw the Billion Dollar Bridge Bill, expenses on PennDOT workforce has been steadily decreased since that time, we continue to increase the amount of money that we spend on bridges, yet we continue to have great challenges with being able to
- 40 or so fixed route transit systems in PA in urban and some rural areas. Philly is the 6th largest system in the country, Pittsburgh is about 19th; State College has the third largest system in the state. There are about 30 other funding grantees beyond that, including the 35 counties which have disabilities transit programs - we will expand that number to 40 or 42 this year.
- Flex funding was used at the most recent point of crisis, but at that same time the Governor made that decision, he established the Transportation Funding Reform Commission
- Commission has had a 5 city public outreach program, we're finishing our recommendations by November 15 and this is the time frame for our final work. We've received much input on items that were not included in our initial guide and that's been a benefit.
- Transportation investment & land use are critically tied, from what the Transportation Funding Reform Commission is coming to believe.
- We have to develop policies for land use and for transportation that afford us a more sustainable system, where we are not required to spend new transportation construction dollars pursuing new development needs at a time when we cannot
- We perhaps should begin focusing on focusing PennDOT's role and work on more walkable transportation projects and planning, the sorts of roles that develop a more sustainable transportation policy and system.

Questions period
Q - Federal transportation policy:
- Federal transportation policies are ridiculous. Why is it not making inner city rail systems just as much of a priority as new interstates? Suburban development patterns have built a systemic pattern that makes it more and more difficult to provide public transportation systems - the Dulles Access road in suburban DC is a good example of these challenges. There are discussions with now trying to make that road a public transit way, but the developments there are not conducive to walkable access, as would be an urban area, even if you were to make it a public transit-based corridor. That's a systemic problem. There's hope that there is a growing, new thought process that is changing toward a more sustainable system, not just in Pennsylvania, but including in key administrators in systems across the nation.

Q - Shared Ride Program shows the myth that transit funding is only Philly & PGH - how do you change that perception and build a political base for transit beyond that myth?
- PennDOT tries to play the role of promoting the existence of transit in some form in every single county. There's a guy named Mike who runs a shared-ride service in rural North Central PA that covers multiple areas; he's had to cut back service levels because he's had to apply capital costs to operations and now his vehicles are falling apart. He needs to better lobby his legislators. The Rural Persons With Disabilities program has gotten $2million more put into the PennDOT budget in the midst of this crisis - a 40% increase in that line item - they're an incredibly effective lobby. The Save Our Transit type of organizations in the state have been doing the same thing. But the highway lobby doesn't just rabble-rouse, they put up a heck of a lot of funding toward campaigns. There is a new coalition of contractors, 10,000 Friends of PA, PA Chamber of Commerce, this coalition building is a lot of strange bedfellows, but it's quite possibly going to have an effect. But land use planning is perhaps the final - and hardest - key to this solution. Fixing roads doesn't fix congestion, but fixing roads is what the public wants when you have bad land use planning.

Q - Should we explore folding the Turnpike Commission into PennDOT and so eliminating a double bureaucracy?
- One current option being discussed is should we use the sale or lease of the turnpike system as a revenue generator, through a public / private partnership. But as to folding the Turnpike system into PennDOT, in terms of its function it is much more like a private system, I don't know, you could fold it in and treat it differently, or you could keep it separate. The question remains how do you want to generate revenue to support the system and finance the system so the overall system is not still a burden.

Q - Public / Private Partnerships
- There are several options being considered for the structure of this type of system. The Chinese, for example, are rapidly building their new highway system by bidding it out wholesale to investor companies who will be able to generate the revenues. On the other hand, public / private partnerships are being addressed in conversations to address congestion on the Skuykill Expressway by building an upper level - you would address the congestion on the road through private investment and tolling, but that would not address the impact on every roadway that this increased capacity would effect. Charlotte, NC is experimenting with assigning a prime developer to assigned areas around public transit station facilities through a tax incentive program to incurage private investment.

Q - Regional approach to transportation from the State perspective
- Discussions going on right now around this issue in the Philly region; should we do something around a regional taxing authority that would then act to distribute the funding as a sort of super-authority. Is that better than using the current MTO? Do they implement and direct the funding? If you look at development of new regional transit authorities, some of them work marvelously, work well together and are effective - DART is one of them, in the Dallas area, they've made light rail work in Dallas, which is amazing, public transit is now widely embraces, the Mayor of Dallas is now a huge public transit advocate. But, other authorities have not been successful in making a regional approach work. Some of us have looked at SW PA, where we have several local authorities, I keep wondering if we could at least establish a loose consortium, focusing on first things like an integrated fare system or coordinated route scheduling. If that works, would they then be willing to get some money involved. There's also some very significant problems with wage scales with Port Authority of Allegheny County versus all the surrounding systems; Port Authority is significantly higher.

Q - Why not regional coordination of traffic signals?
- That's just a question of money, dedicating some increase to operations of this. Maybe we should offer some significant incentives to multiple system / municipality programs that would financially reward approaching cooperative operations, transportation and land use planning.

Q - Infrastructure management systems
- PennDOT does in fact provide asset management, but we have a new Deputy Secretary who believes we can do alot more, so that we can focus less on putting out fires. If you make the right repair at the right point, you can really extend the useable life of the system. We're doing pretty well, but there's more to be done; part of that is getting more resources to invest at the right time in the system. A big challenge is also getting the planning partners to invest in maintenance at the right time. Elected officials like to cut ribbons on new bridges, but fixing bridges is not that sexy.

Q - Given how limited the pot of money obviously is, how is there any room in this picture for a $4 billion new highway that will sacrifice these needs?
- The Turnpike was originally set up to pay for construction costs and then for what it costs to maintain it. I'll tell you right now that the state's roads & bridges funding stream "lock box" is increasingly being devoted to the Mon-Fayette. I have a question about that when our system is not up to snuff. My job is to look at the roads and bridges and we're not able to get the job done with what we've got and I'm jealous to see that money go elsewhere when we can't get the job done. There's some talk of public / private partnership to provide funding required for building the rest of the highway, but I seriously question the economic feasibility of that being able to be accomplished.

Q - What can be done about bidding problems that have effected the ability of the bridge construction in Oakland to be done this year?
- Our committee will review the bids, the level of the various bids, the level of the requirements, can we adjust the program to find another several million dollars to take care of the bridge over the long term? We'll deal with that problem one way or another on Monday. Design improvements to make an attractive bridge based on community input were estimated to cost a bit over a million dollars, but in fact came in at over $5million. It's a critical gateway to Oakland, that's why those improvements were considered so important.

Q - Some areas are transit rich (Oakland) some are transit poor; when development occurs in transit poor areas, could there be some sort of development tax on private developers who chose to develop on cheap land at a resulting great expense to the public transit system? How do you balance that on the Federal and State funding streams?
- The most commonly used funding stream for local transit has been sales tax and gas taxes - gas taxes can't be used for that in PA due to the Constitutional requirement on gas taxes. Reality transfer taxes were raised over a year ago, but that idea largely went away. Alex Scuili at Mellon Financial used to be the director of engineering for Pittsburgh and is on the funding commission - he's a big business guy, but he believes that business should chip in and have a role. Rep. David Argo's office - who used to be chair of the House Appropriations committee, he's out in the rural Eastern part of the state - he's just issued a statement that he doesn't want any of his constituent's taxes going to public transit. There's also questions about increasing the local share of transit funding, it is comparatively low in our state, but again the question comes up to the mechanism for that.

Q - North Shore Connector; is it true that we have to take it or never get transit again? What's the impact of North Shore Connector on future federal dollars?
- This is financed with a special discretionary pot of dollars that will not be available again, allowing through a combination of Federal funds, US funding of 80%. It's one of four or five projects in the country that made the qualifications for that funding. Having said that I was lead consultant on the development of that project, if you set up those two stops on the North Shore, there's an opportunity to head out to the airport if someday that makes sense. But I don't this the development of this will have some impact on future projects. But if you say let's not do this project, if you want to get transit out to Oakland, say, by doing down the old CSX rails, or up Fifth Avenue, it's going to be a tremendous amount of lead time.

Q - Tolling Route 80
- We look at it, assuming about 8 toll plazas, with maintenance and equipment, assuming major upgrades, especially on the eastern 1/3 of the system, the analysis showed the cost to be very significant and it would be a number of years until the investment payed back into the system. If we looked at it as a public / private project, that might be an entirely different scenario and one that would change that forumulation.