Thursday, December 27, 2007


I took a 61C on December 25th. Thankfully Port Authority still has Holiday service.

The 61C McKeesport-Homestead bus is a very busy one, and a unique route in the system. It starts in McKeesport, a downtrodden industry town and home of the McKeesport Transportation Center. Ok, that makes it sound much more glamorous than it is. It's a Kiss-And-Ride, meaning that there are spaces for idling cars but not commuters.

It's also a modern look on how Port Authority has failed. It used to be a train station for the PATrain, commuter service between McKeesport and Pittsburgh. More info from a model rail fan here. Now it's a starting place for 15 or so bus lines. I believe there's a driver's lounge on the second floor, since I've seen drivers go up there between routes. The first floor is obviously a former waiting room and ticket office. Now it's just an empty box that the door sometimes keeps warm. That 2001 article describes a vending machine and fountain that are now gone. It also describes availability of schedules, which is also gone. They can't even use Port Authority owned land to tell people about their services. Oh well.

Anyway, it's the starting point for the 61C. And the start of my journey on Christmas Day. Many people would wonder who would ride a bus on Christmas Day. I was very interesting to see who would join me on that ride. I, like a few others that boarded, wanted to visit others on Christmas. But a few people got on wearing their work outfits. Security and hospital workers mostly. Some people don't get the day off.

So the bus journeyed on the near-empty roads. Into Duquesne, a city that lost it's high school due to low enrollment, low tax revenue, and low performance. Past Kennywood, an amusement park created at the end of a trolley line that this bus may have replaced. Into Homestead, home of a historic steel strike that is now the site of a large shopping complex. Then across the Homestead Grays Bridge to Greenfield and Squirrel Hill. The latter is a prominent Jewish community where a decent amount of storefronts were open like any other weekday. And then to Oakland, my destination and home to premiere universities and hospitals. A group of students who stayed for the break left the bus, and were glad to hear from the driver that the buses still run late tonight.

The route is a journey of Pittsburgh, past work and play, blight and revitalization, education and health, and diverse communities. Riding on a day like this makes you realize who needs good public transportation. Those getting to work on off-days. People visiting family and friends. Students away from home. Those who observe different holidays. Because for them, it's not just a way to a 9-5 job. It's how they get around like anyone with a car. And I'm grateful it's still around.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Transportation Key to World-Class Pittsburgh

Pop City - Transportation Key to World-Class Pittsburgh: "Must every transit initiative become a mission to Mars? What if we kept projects as simple as possible; and modular so that later they can easily be connected, like Legos."

Note from Vacation: Great article from Pop City with ideas on the future of transit in Pittsburgh.

Full fledged posts should resume soon. Happy Holidays everyone.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Port Authority plans automated fare system

Port Authority plans automated fare system - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Blogging from vacation, so there'll be fewer updates. But here's a story from the Trib about a smart card system using money left over from the West Busway. Ooh look, a project for the Port Authority that finshed under budget! Hear that Trib!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Port Authority Adds 28X Service This Week

Port Authority Adds 28X Service This Week

Pittsburgh, PA – To accommodate those college students traveling between Downtown Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh International Airport for winter break, Port Authority will provide additional service on its popular 28X Airport Flyer bus route beginning Wednesday afternoon, December 12 and continuing through Friday, December 14, 2007.

Beginning at 3:15 p.m. and continuing through 7:10 p.m. on December 12, Port Authority will add 10 trips on its 28X service. These trips, which will operate every 25-30 minutes, are in addition to those trips already scheduled.

On Thursday and Friday, Port Authority will add 25 trips daily, including 15 trips every 30 minutes between 5:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. and 10 trips between 3:15 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.

Those wishing additional information should contact Port Authority Customer Service at (412) 442-2000 or the TTY number, (412) 231-7007, for the speech and hearing impaired.

Good idea. Glad to see they are becoming more responsive to the importance of this route, which was supposedly on the chopping block before. What still bugs me: no specific timetables for this plan. Ones were printed for Thanksgiving but were not put online. That's a bit behind the times. If I find a printed one I'll post it so at least it's somewhere.

UPDATE: Additional 28X times are now in the comments of this post.

Allegheny County Controller Audit of Port Authority

This morning the Port Authority of Allegheny County released a copy of the Allegheny County Controller's report (pdf) on satisfaction with public transit in Pittsburgh. They also posted their response to the recommendations in the report. Note that the survey, which was distributed in person to riders and was available on the Controller's web site, was taken during the June service cuts with possibilities of further cuts in September that did not happen. If you want to see the frustration that transit riders have, read the comments section at the end. The uncertain future of routes means an uncertain future for people's jobs.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pittsburgh Blogs Respond to Drink Tax

Some interesting blog posts about the new drink tax:

The fun decals are gone people!

Arrgh. You know, constantly on the radio this week I've heard callers who constantly mention how Port Authority's ills must be based completely on those fun stickers on the side of the bus that are of the old "Ride Gold" logo or say "Port Authority" all around the bus. (The pictures here are from a neat website called "The Bus Stops Here.")

Anyway, everyone points this out as waste that shows that we shouldn't give one more dime to the Port Authority. Well guess what! They already got rid of them! Yep, they decided that from now on no more individual bus decals or metallic paints or bus stickers that cover windows. It's a really good idea to help make the buses stand out but not look too different, and it makes good fiscal sense. A Semptember 2006 article from the P-G describes these changes also, perhaps they made them before and reemphasized them when the budget crisis of last summer raised questions of fiscal responsibility.

All new buses are painted in simple colors and have "Port Authority" stickers on the bus only so windows can be changed. (Thanks to wyliepoon on flickr for that photo.) Now, there's still old ones out there because replacing them just to make Trib readers happy is even worse fiscal sense. People who assume that the Port Authority wildly repaints every week have never seen one of these still on the road. The agency's name has changed twice since that design.

Note: That last link is a goldmine for old bus schedules from 1997. Ok, I'm too much of a transit geek.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Exit Fares and "Charlie on the MTA"

My previous post about the confusing Port Authority fare system may have you wondering whether other cities have this confusing system. Well, enough do that it is called exit fare and it's apparently notable enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry. Apparently Seattle's Metro Transit has the same exact rules as Pittsburgh due to a similar free zone.

The interesting fact it that in some cities you sometimes have to pay twice, once when you get on and again when you get off. In Boston, this was originally put in to allow for easier adjusting of fare increases to further stations. This new policy was so controversial in 1948 that a Progressive party candidate for mayor enlisted local folk songwriters to make a song protesting the fare increase. The song "Charlie on the MTA" is about a man who can't afford the exit fare, so he spends his days trapped on a subway train. Not sure why his wife could bring him lunch everyday but not the extra nickel, but come on it's a song. You can hear some performances on YouTube here.

The song became such a part of Boston lore that when the MBTA (which changed names in 1964) instituted a smart card fare system, they called it the CharlieCard. If Charlie had one with extra money on it, maybe he wouldn't have been stuck on that train. Apparently the system still exists on some stations in Boston still.

And what about Pittsburgh? They're eying a smart card system too. Any ideas for names? Something Pittsburghese? Bus N'at? Dahntahn Card?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Allegheny County Drink, Rental Taxes Pass

It's official: the controversial 10% drink tax and $2 per day rental car tax to fund Port Authority have barely passed: 10-4 for drink tax and 11-4 for rental car tax. (Previous blog posts: 1 2)

P-G and Trib have their stories. Guess which one has a random quote about how terrible it'll be without a matching one from the Port Authority? Port Authority has a response to the events, including explanations of some cost-saving procedures already under way, including some innovating revenue streams. (Again, my idea is still available.)

Anyway, the Trib says which members voted no, with one abstaining from the drink tax vote due to ownership of a liquor license. Expect more from analysts and me in the coming days and weeks.

Drink Tax Judgement Day

Tonight will be the vote that decides whether the county will create a Drink Tax and a Rental Car tax to allow for matching funds for the Port Authority. The Auditor General thought it was a great time to mention that the Port Authority really should look at its budget. Thanks Mr. Obvious.

I don't believe that Allegheny County needs new taxes, and I think it puts Allegheny County and the Port Authority in a less competitive position with surrounding counties
The county? Maybe. But the Port Authority itself? Yeah, real competitive when 25% of service is cut.

And call the feds: the Trib has an article in support of it. A good article. Wow. Joseph Sabino Mistick lays it out:

Pick one. The pour tax or the poor tax. The tax on every alcoholic drink that is poured in local taverns and restaurants or an increase in the real estate tax that folks on a fixed income believe will eventually put them in the poorhouse.

P-G's editorial support here. This is the crappy cards we've been dealt. The state says do these taxes or raise property taxes. And Pittsburghers would rather do anything short of wearing a Browns jersey to avoid property tax increases. Stay tuned for updates.

So drink up. At least you'll have a ride home. And don't like the $2 rental car tax? A quarter more (60 cents in January) gets you a ride on the 28X.

UPDATES: I'll compile all the stories related to the new taxes from today into this one post.

-Watch the Council meeting live here on Allegheny County's website. The agenda is quite long, this one may last into the night.
- Buskarma has some thoughts, including Wagner's interesting timing to state what everyone already knew. Note that he may be running against Onorato for Governor when Rendell is done.
-And why hasn't Save Our Transit been updated since March? I've heard their opinions on the radio so they are still a force.
- The tax has passed. See my story above.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Steal this idea PAT: Ad-Sponsored Hand Schedules

Ok, hear me out. For a select number of routes that go through popular business districts in and around Pittsburgh, the Port Authority should accept ads to place in their printed bus and T schedules. Advertisements for local businesses along the route could help those taking the bus find a place to eat, drink, or have fun. Commuter riders probably rarely look at paper schedules, so this idea would work best on nighttime or weekend buses and trolleys going to business districts and malls.

Take a look at a 59U schedule. A quarter of one side is completely blank. Placing an ad there for a restaurant at the Waterfront or a theater in Squirrel Hill would reach an extremely targeted audience. So I pretty much imagine this idea being limited to a small number of buses (54C, 59U, 64A, 500). The ads should fit the current color scheme to save money and they should only appear within the schedule. They should mention that advertisement does not imply approval from the Port Authority. They should in no way affect the information contained on the schedule (map, timetable, fares, etc.) It would even be worthwhile to instead of ads just have a listing of local businesses who pay to be included on schedules.

So here's the issue: why doesn't anyone do this already? Because the Port Authority is a public enterprise? That doesn't stop them from covering their buses in and out with ads. Let's look at Port Authority's advertising policy:

Port Authority will not accept advertisements that are obscene, unlawful, misleading, libelous or fraudulent. Further, Port Authority will not accept advertisements that are non-commercial; that appeal to prurient interests, that are or may be offensive to riders; that glamorize or otherwise promote violence, sexual conduct, alcohol or tobacco use; that are political in nature or contain political messages; or that are reasonably determined not to be in good taste. This policy is intended to be an objective and enforceable standard for advertising that is consistently applied. It is also Port Authority's declared intent not to allow any of its Transit Vehicles or Property to become a public forum for dissemination, debate or discussion of public issues.

This policy has gotten PAT in hot water before regarding a PSA telling ex-criminal offenders that they have to right to vote. PAT denied them because they are non-commercial. Not that PAT doesn't have plenty of ads for other non-profit organizations that don't target ex-cons. I'm sure Port Authority would not like their schedules filled with ads for payday loans, medical studies, and bail bondsmen. So this is a very large hurdle. In addition, the ads should be related to the area on the route, since this is what makes them relevant, but their current policy does not restrict based on area. I'm not sure if this policy is PAT's or if it is state or federal based.

But I know this: I never read ads in magazines but a restaurant ad in a program for a show Downtown worked because I needed a place to eat after. An ad for a restaurant or shop along the route (and a reminder to pull the cord at Murray/Beacon) could work pretty well for businesses and the Port Authority. Even if it just covered the cost of schedules, Port Authority has long been looking for a way for businesses to "sponsor" routes that serve them. Here's their chance. So consider this a free one PAT.

The best option for funding transit

The head of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development writes in today's P-G about the proposed drink tax and rental car tax to raise money to support the Port Authority. The ACCD is a private-sector organization to "provide civic leadership to execute a focused agenda for regional improvement," according to their site.

They support the taxes along with the Chamber of Commerce, but the restaurant and bar owners are strongly against it. No word from the rental car industry, I guess because about 6 flights a day come into Pittsburgh Airport now. The restaurant and bar owners have changed their tune, orginally they just said "oppose the tax" without saying what it was for. I imagine some asked them "What, are you against transit? How the hell do people get to your bar one the South Side unless they can get one of the coveted 13 spaces?" So now they say the tax raise won't be used for transit but just for other county operations, which is meant to raise images of Dan Onorato jumping into a money pool like Scrooge McDuck.

The real deal is that the state is offering the county dedicated funding for transit. The caveat: the county must match it. Onorato needs to raise the money or else the Port Authority is back to having to consider even bigger cuts. Options? Property tax or these taxes. Property tax increases will not fly and will violate his largest promise in elections. So I commend Onorato for trying to find the money elsewhere and pledging to not give a dime until Port Authority lowers labor costs. He's now gone to the table to help negotiate concessions, which helps.

As always, a great City Paper article about the mess, including Save Our Transit's call for boycott of establishments who oppose the tax.