Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Higher Transit Usage = Earlier Jay Leno?

Public transit ridership had the biggest increase in 25 years during third quarter of this year compared to 2007. You can read the press release from the American Public Transportation Association here.

So even as gas prices fall, the economy is driving people to take transit. (sorry for the pun)

In other transit news: Surprisingly, yesterday's news about the Jay Leno of NBC's Tonight Show moving to 10 PM ET was also somewhat transit related. Jay spoke about moving his show earlier last night on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
Plus people go to bed earlier now. 10:30 is like 11:30 used to be. I speak to young people now, young couples that have kids or children and maybe they‘re not driving their car as much, they‘re taking public transportation and getting up earlier so it‘s a chance to do this stuff at a different time.
Nice to know that the guy with a huge collection of cars (including a hot rod Flxible bus!) is thinking about the bus rider.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Contract Approved! What's Next?

The P-G has said it: the contact has been approved by the union 1,388-44.

Now the focus is on fixing the Port Authority. The system is a troubled one, with some routes that have not been touched since they were streetcars over 50 years ago.

That's where Connect '09 comes in. The Port Authority has been surprisingly open about the findings so far from Nelson\Nygaard, a transit consulting firm. They are doing a complete look at the system, each route at a time. The documents are slowly coming in, like this one with overall suggestions. Some of these findings ring very true:
  • Service is Too Complicated
  • Too Much Service is Too Specialized
  • There is a Large Amount of Duplicative/Overlapping Service
  • Many Routes are Too Long
  • Routes are Very Circuitous
  • There are Too Many Stops
  • Service is Scheduled Very Irregularly
  • Service is Not Well Coordinated
  • Service is Not Scheduled in Consideration of Productivity Impacts
  • Service is Not Scheduled Efficiently
Ouch. But yes, one thing is very true about a lot of PAT routes: either they are tiny feeders that run 4 times a day and therefore get no riders or they are incredibly long routes that try to serve everyone and have huge gaps in ridership.

Thanks to the analysis, you can see how your route is doing: they posted a 10-20 page analysis on each route in the system. Yes, Christmas came early for us transit nerds. These analyses have rider counts for EVERY stop on EVERY route. You can even see how much Port Authority is paying for you to ride. On the excellent-performing 71A route through North Oakland and Shadyside it's $1.50 a ride. On the poor performing 25A in Moon and Coraopolis it's $15.28. Or you can see how complicated your route is: did you know the 46G through the South Hills to Elizabeth has 38(!) different variants?

The transit study also provides solutions for many routes. A lot of routes have the same solutions: eliminate rarely used or clustered stops, consolidate routes that use the same corridor, convert long routes to feeders that connect to popular routes (or busways or the T), use easy to remember headways, or even convert some routes to ACCESS-style demand service.

Some recommendations are a bit strange, such as these for the 77F:

Improve Service to the Pittsburgh Zoo to provide a more useful schedule that could serve both employees and visitors.

Discontinue Service to the Pittsburgh Zoo: Alternatively, discontinue service to the zoo due to very low ridership.

Some routes are beyond repair, like the 44D, a South Hills T feeder route that costs $37 a person.

The findings are fascinating, and all people interested in Pittsburgh transit should take a look. Whether these suggestions will ever be carried out is another factor, due to the fact that no one likes to eliminate bus service. I hope to see more people breaking down these new statistics, and you may even see some more analysis here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Post-Gazette: Riders Catch a Bus That No Longer Exists!

Here's a story from the Post-Gazette, which is usually a great paper about transit in Pittsburgh: Transit pact a relief to riders.

Accompanying the November 30, 2008 story is this picture:

The caption says "Passengers board a Port Authority CL bus Friday on Smithfield Street, Downtown."

Which must be news to those in Clairton since the CL route was cut in June 2007. So yes, the Post-Gazette used an old photo from a 2007 story about the cutbacks.

Lying about when a photo was taken is bad journalism. It's also lazy: the Post-Gazette's offices are on Boulevard of the Allies downtown. There's plenty of buses that fly by there every day.

Update 12/3: After I emailed the P-G, the photo vanished from the story. Google's Cache still has it for now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Details of Transit Pact Now Online

The Post-Gazette has stated that the details of the transit agreement last week have been posted online. You can read the agreement here. The union vote on the contract will happen Sunday.

In other news, Onorato likes the new plan, and will release the drink tax money if approved.

In even other news, the Allegheny County drink tax may be cut from 10% to 7%, though that may lead to future property tax increases.

Update 12/3: Full PG story now online with the details. Trib has their story too, and of course they are wondering if the contract includes privatization.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Strike Averted!

Just a quick update: the Port Authority will not impose the new contract on Dec. 1. The old contract will stay for now, a tentative agreement on a secret new contract has been reached, and a work stoppage/strike/lockout/really bad thing has been called off.

But... will the new contract be ratified by the union and board? Does it bring down costs to Onorato's liking?
It is believed that the authority's representatives, Chief Executive Officer Steve Bland and its negotiator, Michael Palombo, of Campbell, Beatty & Durant, regularly updated County Executive Dan Onorato of developments, because Mr. Onorato has insisted that long-term legacy costs be brought under control.

Without that, Mr. Onorato vowed not to release $27.7 million in revenue from county drink and car rental taxes. The authority has said it needs the funding to keep from running out of money by the middle of next month.
Uh oh.

Chris at Null Space has some thoughts worth reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Pittsburgh!

Take a break from the strike gloom and doom for some happy news: Pittsburgh celebrates its 250th birthday today! See how the city is celebrating at Incorporated on this day in 1758 with an 'H' at the end, and we never gave it up.

Time to gush a little about my hometown. No matter where I go, people either have never heard of Pittsburgh (other than the Steelers, of course) or they have nothing but great things to say about it. In the past few months I have heard people here in Minnesota say that Pittsburgh was beautiful, full of culture, and home to world class technology, education, and healthcare. And no other city has that skyline that is always adored by sports announcers (in between stock footage of people making steel and Primanti sandwiches.)

Cheers to Pittsburgh!

P.S. Happy Birthday to this blog!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Port Authority Not Striking Yet

This is strange: The AFL-CIO and national ATU is holding meetings with the local ATU and the Port Authority. These meetings have canceled the November 23rd strike meeting. No word on what is in these meetings, other than a lot of questions.

Is the AFL-CIO trying to mediate? That's a pretty strange position. My incredibly uninformed guess? The AFL-CIO is trying to avoid a strike that will be a national black eye for labor, when the AFL-CIO is trying to push the Employee Free Choice Act under future President Obama. But that's my hearsay.

And something interesting: Steve Bland's message in the latest Rider Report:
As you ride your bus, T or incline today, please understand that the leadership of ATU Local 85 is solely responsible for this situation, not the union rank and file members. Union members and our other employees are hard working people who deliver vital transportation services each day. They are merely victims of their leadership’s failure to acknowledge Port Authority’s dire financial situation.
The CEO is trying to get on the good side of operators. Smart, but will it work if the strike gets a full union vote?

But will it get a full union vote? A strike (technically a lockout if the union thinks the contract is illegal) is still very possible, and the power will be in a judge's hand:
Mr. McMahon has indicated workers will be asked to stay on the job while the union goes into court seeking an injunction and possibly other legal recourse. But if court intervention fails, he said the union will consider the authority's action a lockout and will not report for work.
Stay tuned. Good news though: the Boulevard of the Allies bridge is reopening tomorrow, allowing for some easier traffic through Oakland.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Port Authority Responds to CIII Bus Cuts

The plot thickens. Thanks to Joe Grata, I was able to ask Judi McNeil, the public relations director at the Port Authority, about what happened that led to the cuts at Century III Mall. Here's her response, reprinted with permission:
Mall management has only told us the same thing that they are saying publicly, that they think Port Authority should pay $150,000 to repave the mall's parking lot.

Our position is that Port Authority does not have the funds to get into the business of repaving every surface on which the buses operate. In addition, we bring the mall customers and transport employees, so we are not only transporting folks who spend money at the mall, but providing transportation for folks who need it in order to hold down a job. In other words, the taxpayers subsidize the transportation for the mall's customers and employees and, as such, should not be also expected to fund the mall's state of good repairs. The mall didn't see it that way and ordered a reduction in our bus trips. Of course, we are not happy about it--and neither are our riders--but we must comply as it is private property.

This is an issue that we are dealing with at virtually every Simon mall. The Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) has taken on this issue and plans to make it one of their major campaigns. Wallace Watson at PIIN is heading up the effort and can be reached at (412) 371-8138.
Pittsburgh Interfaith Network also has a website, and they even have a task force for transit. Also included in her email was a forwarded message from a Macy's VP. Macy's is one of the major tenants of Century III Mall.
I'm Neil Penz, the District VP of the Macy's Pittsburgh East stores and Century III Mall is one of my stores.

I recently learned of the cut back in bus service to Century III Mall requested by mall manager, Gina Mercorelli. I'm greatly concerned that this will reduce traffic flow to the mall and effect the sales of all the stores in the mall.

Also, it was unfortunate that we had to learn of this decision through the newspaper and not from the mall management personally.

I would like to partner with you in any way that I can to help resolve this issue to the satisfaction of all parties involved. If I can be of service, please let me know.
Judi also wanted to point out this quote from today's P-G:
Ms. Mercorelli said she expects to see some reduction in shoppers from the reduction in bus routes.

"I certainly think this is going to affect something because those people are not going to be able to get a direct bus route to the mall. Two neighborhoods can't make it here," she said.
Guess you shouldn't have ordered those cuts then.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November Service Changes Screw Century III Mall Shoppers Again

One year ago, the first post to this blog was about Port Authority moving the bus stop for Century III Mall in West Mifflin away from an actual entrance. It is now on the edge of a parking lot, see a map here.

It's not a major move, just 375ft. The passengers do have to walk through a parking lot that gets slushy and dangerous in winter. Not to mention the elderly who ride the buses to the mall. The move was done supposedly due to concrete problems and discipline issues.

Now, a year later the mall is demanding Port Authority either pay to maintain the road or cut service to the mall. Well, money isn't growing on trees at PAT, so they are eliminating weekday mall service on the 59A and 35A routes and trimming weekday mall service on 46G, 51C, and 55M routes. Port Authority's official release here, and another Post-Gazette story citing the monetary reasons here.

Interestingly, the two different stories from the P-G have different reasons. The first story says:
At one time, the authority hailed mall management for being so accommodating to public transit. Over the years, the mall has complained that while the buses bring workers and patrons to its stores, they also bring a number of people who basically loaf and spend little money.
while the second one does not mention this. I loafed at Century III Mall all through middle school but I was dropped off by my parents, so I guess that's OK for mall management. Where's the scientific survey of where bus riders go? I'm sure stereotyping had nothing to do with it. PGH is a City elaborates on this point also in a post from earlier this month, as does the blog Pieces of a Whole.

The idea that Century III Mall would want less transit service and less customers during an economic downturn is shocking to me. The fact that the mall is getting emptier doesn't help their situation either.

New schedules for the November 23, 2008 service changes, along with other slight modifications to other routes can be found on Port Authority's website.

P.S. Notice something on the back of every schedule? Yep, a coupon/ad for two downtown eateries. You read it here first.

Revised 11/20:
Port Authority now has a summary of Sunday's changes posted. Also of interest is a new article about Century III Mall in the P-G that includes discussion of why buses were cut. The mall is saying they did not want large cuts, while the Port Authority says they cannot pay for road repairs since every shopping center would have a case to ask for money.

Strike Update... What to Watch

Keep up with the latest strike posts here at Peak Direction by viewing all labor-related posts.

There's some great articles and websites popping up concerning the possibility of a Port Authority transit strike (or lockout) in Pittsburgh.
  • The University of Pittsburgh has a wide-reaching strike plan that included expanded shuttle service to Shadyside and Squirrel Hill (current Pitt shuttles only serve North and South Oakland); express service to Edgewood, Homewood, Highland Park, and Wilkinsburg; and (for a fee) service to park and ride lots around the county. No word on whether CMU and Chatham students can ride these buses (they can ride normal shuttles run by Pitt)
  • I wouldn't say Pittsburgh transit has a "blogosphere" just yet, but there are a few great blogs that focus on transit either entirely or in part. The East Busway Blog started last summer, and they have some great articles about previous failures of Port Authority. Let's hope that list stays short. No Commuter Left Behind also started in the summer, and the author actually works on transit for the Allegheny Conference. Green is Good has bloomed nicely, and covers Pittsburgh transit well. And last but not least, the excellent Null Space blog is letting the market decide. Place your bets on a strike!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lights, Camera, Transit!

Yes, even something as everyday as transit makes it into the movies. Here's a few times where transit has been part of a plot line: Warning: contains spoilers.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

This classic film starring Steve Martin and John Candy shows everything that can go wrong with transportation. Obnoxious people. Canceled planes. Strange taxis. Bad hotels. But what that gets Steve Martin's character back home for Thanksgiving without any problems? Yep, the Chicago L. Even in the winter weather that sets back the characters throughout the movie, the world famous elevated trains that symbolize Chicago run right on schedule. See a clip below of the ending, which takes place at the LaSalle/Van Buren stop. But how he can get back to the same station so quickly? Because he's in The Loop. Overall, a pretty good endorsement of "trains" here.

Speed (1994)

One of the most used cliches in describing a movie is saying "Movie x did for activity y what Psycho did for showers!" But I think it's safe to say that about Speed and mass transit. In one movie, a terrorist targets elevators (which may be the most ridden form of mass transit,) buses, subways, and planes. And all in Los Angeles, a city notorious for bad transportation. This movie probably didn't help, but it is a great nonstop thriller. And hey, imagine how quickly you'd get to work if your bus couldn't drop below 50!

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Who needs a car in L.A.? We've got the best public transportation system in the world.

So says Eddie Valiant, private investigator in Los Angeles in 1947. He tries to stop the evil Judge Doom, who wants to destroy Toontown. Why? To make room for a freeway. You heard that right. Who Framed Roger Rabbit isn't about cartoons, murder, or the golden age of Hollywood. It's a dramatization of the Great American Streetcar Scandal, in which General Motors bought up streetcar systems to replace them with buses. Judge Doom buys up the beloved Red Car trolley system only to dismantle it, and Los Angeles residents are forced to drive everywhere. Sound familiar?

Good Will Hunting (1997)

This might just be me. But I think Good Will Hunting brilliantly uses transit to tell the story of Will Hunting, a genius from the wrong end of the Boston Red Line. In the film the Red Line, through a few beautiful scenes with the music of Elliott Smith, symbolically and physically connects the rough South Boston with the prestige of MIT and Harvard. If it wasn't for the Red Line trains, could Will have secretly displayed his amazing mathematical talents to an MIT math professor? Could he have met Skylar, a smart and beautiful Harvard student? I'd like to think no.

But the gift at the end of the film to Will from his buddies? A car. Oh well.

Stranger than Fiction (2006)

This little gem of a film features a rare dramatic turn for comedian Will Ferrell. Transit is everywhere in this movie where Harold, a lonely tax agent, finds out he is the protagonist in a novelist's unfinished book. One day, he starts hearing the narrator and finds out he will soon die. His life then starts changing for the better, including this great scene on a bus where he talks to Ana, a free-spirited baker who he is auditing.

Notice how the discussion is made more awkward by his sitting in the middle of an articulated bus (that seems to be going nowhere... it keeps making left turns. Commentary on Harold perhaps?) A later scene has Harold reading the book about himself on a very long bus ride (that even takes him to the garage and bus wash.) And not to mention the ending... Filmed in Chicago, though the transit system is referred to as the MTA rather than the CTA. Is Chicago the only city where white collar workers take transit? According to Hollywood, yes.

Sliding Doors (1998)

Unlike driving or walking, taking mass transit makes a whole lot of "what if" moments. The bus, train, or plane is leaving whether you're on it or not. And you wonder sometimes what would have happened if you caught that bus that left as you were getting to the stop. Would you have met someone? Would you have gotten home earlier and seen something you shouldn't have? Sliding Doors explores two parallel universes: one where Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) catches an Underground train, and the other where she just misses it. See the trailer here. While transit is not the main theme of the film, how it is used to explain two different possible lives is very interesting.

"Seinfeld" (1989-1998)

The television show about nothing is often a show about New York City. And of course, transit makes a few appearances on a show set in the city where 6.5 million people take the subway every day. The episode entitled "The Subway" from the third season has an interesting encounter happen to all four characters as they take the subway to where they need to go. Jerry encounters a naked man, Kramer hears a great horse racing tip, George meets a woman who cons him out of $8, and Elaine is stuck on a broken down car on her way to a lesbian wedding. Just four of the 6.5 million stories on the subway every day. Below you can watch a great behind-the-scenes movie about the show, including the subway car set. The whole episode appears to be online, but I imagine that link won't last too long.

There's plenty of other example abound, especially involving the granddaddies of them all: the New York City Subway and the London Underground. Any other great moments in Hollywood transit?

Friday, November 14, 2008

What Pittsburgh Could Learn from Minneapolis Transit

Greetings everyone! Glad to be back. A few questions before the post:

Umm, where the hell have you been?

I moved to Minneapolis in August 2008. More in my last post.

Damn it, we're dying here! Pittsburgh only has 16 days left of transit service!

Yes, the news appears grim back in Pittsburgh. On November 23rd the union will vote on a strike after the Port Authority forced the contract into effect December 1st. The Post-Gazette has a story about how companies and people are preparing for the buses and trains to stop We reported on the story back in March. Watch for coverage here, and hopefully we'll have a few comments from those who ride Port Authority on a daily basis

So you went to Minneapolis and abandoned your transit blog? Did you abandon transit too?

Heck no. I am proud to be a daily rider of Metro Transit. It is the transit agency for Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding areas. How does it stack up?

  • Around 70 million trips yearly* (Equal to Port Authority)
  • 118 Routes and one light rail line (vs 183 bus routes and 3 light rail lines in Pittsburgh)
  • Serving a population of 3,175,041 in the Metro Area (Allegheny County has 1,281,666 people)
*Other carriers such as MVTA operate in the suburbs, and bring up the total to 73 million. Numbers for this year are rising, and may hit 78 million.

So looking at these numbers, Port Authority seems to have higher ridership. Pittsburgh has more routes, but Pittsburgh is definitely a much harder city to get around due to hills, mountains, and three rivers. It's a lot more flat in the Twin Cities, streets are in a grid, and there's only one river (and a major tributary) here.

So what does Minneapolis do right compared to Pittsburgh?

Ease of paying fares. The Go-To Card was fully implemented in early 2007. It is a great piece of technology, also seen in Boston and hopefully soon in Pittsburgh.

The system is easy to use. First, you can buy a reloadable plastic smart card (currently free) from local stores, light rail stations, and by mail. You can add money to the card and/or you can add up to two monthly passes.

When you board the bus, you touch your card to a reader at the front of the bus (shown below). On light rail, you touch the card to a sensor on the train platform. You can even pay for multiple people if you enough cash or passes loaded onto the card.

The reader beeps, and even shows your balance. The great thing is that you don't even have to take your card out of your wallet; I usually just hold my whole wallet up to the sensor since it uses radio waves rather than magnetic strips. In addition, you can register your card in case of loss and easily recover any balance. Most workplaces and Universities also offer Go-To cards as an employee perk with tax benefits (also true in Pittsburgh).

To those who don't want to use the Go-To Card can also pay in cash, coins, or using older paper-based passes sold in some areas. Day Passes and 6-Hour Event Passes are available and are a great option for visitors. Fares are similar, though Express and Rush Hour fares are more expensive. There is no zone system though, and transfers are free.

Can Pittsburgh do it? Hopefully, they will soon. If the buses stay running, of course.

Free and Easy Transfers. Free transfers aren't the only great thing. Transfers are good for unlimited use for 2 1/2 hours on buses or trains. That means transfers could actually pay for a round trip if you are running to the store. Transfers are either slips of paper printed on the bus with a magnetic strip, or are implemented automatically on Go-To Cards. The on board transfer printer is also a reader, and makes it so the driver does not have to squint and see if you pass is valid. Both of these features speed up loading, but so does the next one...

Could Pittsburgh do it? Hopefully when smart cards are introduced, a overhaul of the transfers will be looked at. Free transfers were considered during the January 2007 proposed cuts.

Back Door Unloading. One of the top complaints in Pittsburgh is the sparse use of the back door on buses outside of downtown. The problem with Port Authority's buses is that the back door is controlled by the driver, which allows people to enter without paying fares. Here in Minneapolis, that problem is solved because the door can be pushed open from the inside. The driver still has to switch it on though as a safety issue. As soon as the person exits, the door closes.

Could Pittsburgh do it? Probably not unless new buses are acquired or old ones are retrofitted, since the ability to exit is a mechanical feature. And of course add in the confusing pay as you get off thing...

Real-time info with NexTrip. The phone system for buses and trains, NexTrip, provides real time information via phone, internet, and visually at a few stops. The automated phone system now has voice recognition, but is a bit less sophisticated than Let's Go!, described here earlier this year. But the feature of real time departures makes the phone number (612-373-3333) worth putting into your cell.

Could Pittsburgh do it? Fitting every bus with a GPS system costs money that the Port Authority probably doesn't have. Though a system-wide automated bus information number is very possible.

The light rail actually goes somewhere. Ok, sorry to those on the T. But Minneapolis has one line (the Hiawatha Line) that services Downtown Minneapolis, the Target Center, the Metrodome, the Airport, and the Mall of America. An extension to the new Target Field is due when the facility opens in 2010. And in 2014, light rail will also extend to the University of Minnesota and Downtown St. Paul. Sorry T, but Minneapolis has you beat there.

Can Pittsburgh do it? Doubtful. Light rail to the airport and Oakland is constantly debated. Read about the ups and downs of Oakland light rail here. To Pittsburgh's defense, light rail to the Airport and Oakland has many obstacles: distance, topography, rivers, and an already crowded road system.

A Guaranteed Ride Home. This is a regional program that gives those who have bus passes (or walk or bike to work) two free cab rides every six months up to $25 each. The coupons also work in buses or trains, and can be combined for more expensive trips. It's a great way to encourage alternative transportation for those who worry about having to leave work early or staying late and missing the last express bus home.

Can Pittsburgh do it? It will require more funding, but they definitely should. It makes transit riders all fuzzy knowing that they can always take a taxi if needed.

Schedules at the stops! Yep, at a lot of shelters around the city the schedules are posted for all routes. Even at ones owned by advertising agencies. I've lamented about this before. And if a stop is out of service? There's a very simple white paper sign: "Buses do not stop here."

Can Pittsburgh do it? Hell yes they should, and somehow they should force Clear Channel (the advertiser and owner of many bus shelters) to allow bus information in their precious shelters.

Schedules on the buses! Metro Transit seems to be a lot better about putting the right schedules on the buses. Hmm... I've also lamented about this before. See a pattern?

Can Pittsburgh do it? They sure can. Just plan ahead more.

A system map! In print and online. Ok, this is getting ridiculous. Did Metro Transit read my post?

Can Pittsburgh do it? They may have to hire someone to make it, but it's a bit unbelievable that they don't have an internal one.

Driving on the shoulder! Yes, buses are allowed to drive on interstate and local road shoulders if necessary to bypass traffic. State law requires cars to allow buses to merge back into traffic, though in practice this may not happen.

Can Pittsburgh do it? It would take legislation, but whether this is necessary given the busways is not known.

A free rider newsletter! TAKEOUT is published every month and is always hanging on the bars in buses and trains. It contains news about upcoming events and is mostly a paper copy of the news section of the website. However, it allows those without a computer to read about service changes and other information.

Can Pittsburgh do it? Sure, it would be a great way to spread info about changes and upcoming events and even the status of the North Shore Connector.

Free rides! Metro Transit seems to be better about encouraging users to try the system out. They give free rides to hockey fans, arts festival goers, attendees of the world famous Minnesota State Fair, those going to the downtown Holiday Festival, partiers on St Patrick's Day... Heck, even when I sent away for the "New Rider Information" packet they included two free tickets.

Can Pittsburgh do it? Maybe if they attracted more sponsors.

Easy info by mail. The website has an easy to use form that allows you to send away for schedules, system maps, bike riding brochures, and all kinds of info. There's a great New Rider Information book that shows how to read schedules, pay fares, etc.

Can Pittsburgh do it? Sure. This is easy web stuff, they already offer information by mail but over the phone. This feature makes it a lot easier to try out the bus for the first time.

Frequency information. The schedules are a lot better when describing the overall frequency of buses and trains, as seen on my route's info page. Some routes are even designated as High-Frequency routes, and schedules and stops reflect which routes are frequent (described as being every 15 minutes or better weekdays from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.)

Can Pittsburgh do it? Yes, the designation as being "high-frequency" can attract residents to look for places to live and work that fall on a high-freq line. It's all about publicity and letting riders know which buses are worth waiting for even without a schedule.

Nice drivers! This is just my opinion, but the drivers seem to be more willing to answer rider questions. This is a state known for being nice though. However, I have had the occasional surly driver.

Can Pittsburgh do it? With more group hugs and sunshine perhaps.

Wow, that was a lot of good stuff. But don't sweat it Pittsburgh, an upcoming post will be about what's better back home. Yes, there are some things.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What happened?

I am very sorry to anyone that still reads this blog. Sadly I have left the Burgh for the Twin Cities, and the summer was just a whirlwind getting ready for the move. Hopefully soon I will post another item or two, especially comparing Metro Transit here in the Cities with good old PAT. I miss Pittsburgh already, and (unlike this blog) hopefully the buses will be running without interruption.

Again, thanks for your support. See you soon.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rapid Transit to Oakland: No Foolin'?

Hello again. Well, I have to report on the recent stories in the press reviving a Oakland-Downtown public transit link. The Tribune-Review has reported that the county has approved a contract with Lea+Elliott, a consulting firm that specializes in transit. Its projects have included the Las Vegas Monorail, Amtrak's Acela express trains, and Pittsburgh's own existing light rail system. They mention a specialization in automated transit systems. Which, as has been mentioned before in a Peak Direction review of Oakland rapid transit, seems to be the direction Dan Onorato wants to head in.

This seems to be driven by a recent report by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group, which recently published a report on improving public transit. Sadly, it's a report that has been issued by other state PIRGs and has no specific solutions for Pittsburgh, though the PIRG has advocated light rail in Oakland. Joe Grata in the Post-Gazette covered the release of the report.

The real question is why does Onorato want a futuristic automated system? What's wrong with having people operate it? Oh, right:
The transit contingency planning session will brief attendees on the Port Authority of Allegheny County's labor negotiation process and route restructuring plans to help companies prepare for service disruptions that could create problems for commuting employees.

That's right, more planning for a transit strike from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. No foolin'.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Port Authority CEO Defends North Shore Connector

Usually the monthly Rider Report from the Port Authority is pretty non-eventful. However, this month the report has a very good rebuttal by CEO Steve Bland on why the North Shore Connector is important. He mentions not only direct service to the booming North Shore (including stadiums, museums, businesses, CCAC main campus, a casino, and nightlife) but also use of the large North Shore Parking garage sitting of top of the future T station.

It's good to hear that the Port Authority is thinking bigger than just being a shuttle for Pirates and Steelers fans. I think the nightlife opportunities of the North Shore Connector are huge. Many new bars are opening by the stadiums, and the casino will be one stop away from these bars thanks to the new T stations. In addition, patrons can "bar hop" to Station Square by riding through downtown. Believe me, as I saw on Saturday during the St. Patrick's Day Parade, people like taking the T to Station Square. Now, if it was extended down East Carson...

Anyway, the Rider Report also unveiled this little gem:

It's a snake, right? I think. Anyway, the North Shore Connector now has a mascot! Oh god. I'm just waiting for "CALL 4 ACTION: PORT AUTHORITY WASTES MONEY ON SNAKE WITH HARDHAT!"

And I cannot wait until the new web page about the NSC:
Very soon, Port Authority will include a special link on its web site devoted to the North Shore Project called “The Bore to the Shore.” There, readers can learn more about the project through a variety of new interactive features.
Interactive features! Like a specialized version of Dig Dug using tunnel-boring machines!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pittsburgh Transit Blog Roundup

Because some other blogs do it better... here's my occasional look at other what other Pittsburgh blogs have to say about transit.
  • I'll definitely keep my eye of the marmot. It's first post is "Bus Stops," an excellent video documentary that looks at the funding crisis of last year. It's a really well-done video, and I look forward to future documentaries. For some insight on how massive the original cuts would have been. take a look at the proposed 25% cuts from last year and the 15% cut that went into affect last June.
  • In the Post-Gazette, two local restaurant owners argue against drink tax and provide some funding alternatives for the Port Authority.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Voter Registration Deadline in PA is March 24th

Just a reminder to Pittsburgh readers of this blog: register to vote in this year's primary on April 22nd. Pennsylvania has a unique opportunity this primary season, as the Democratic nominee for president has not yet been decided. (John McCain has gained the delegates necessary to secure the Republican nomination.)

A reminder of the requirements to vote in Pennsylvania:
  • You must be a citizen of the United States for at least one month before the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.
  • You must be a resident of Pennsylvania and the election district in which the individual desires to register and vote for at least 30 days before the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.
  • You must be least 18 years of age on or before the day of the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.
In addition, unlike some other states, you must be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary. This means if you are not affiliated with a party or are registered Republican (or another party), you cannot request a Democratic ballot. The deadline to change your party affiliation is the same as new registations: March 24th.

So get registered! If you live in Pennsylvania, the forms can be downloaded or filled out online here. You must print the form, sign it, and mail it to your county election office. The same form is also used for changing your residence or party affiliation.

If you don't live in Pennsylvania and want to register in another state, visit

And if you're registered in Pennsylvania but won't be in your home district on election day, request an absentee ballot here before April 15th. I'd send for one as soon as possible to make sure you have enough time to send it back in time for the completed absentee ballot deadline of April 18th.

Read my posts on the candidates and their stance on transportation:
Obama and McCain
Clinton and (defunct) Huckabee

Of course, transit issues are just one of the big issues this election year. Visit the candidates websites to see their plans:
Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
John McCain

Remember, register by March 24th and vote on April 22nd. Make your voice heard.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March Service Changes

The Port Authority March 2008 service changes are up, and are mostly harmless. Notice the error in calling the Trafford Express the 68E, when it's really the 68F. Ha!

Port Authority also posted a quick and easy guide that actually links to the new schedules! Right now that previous page is the only place to get them, hopefully they'll replace the old schedules on the website Sunday morning. All changes take effect at the beginning of service on Sunday, March 16th, 2008.

The biggest deal on the new schedules? The error. Yep, the new schedules for 12 bus routes (51E, 58C, 58P, 58V, 67A, 67C, 67E, 67F, 67H, 67J, 68F, and 68J) show a new Downtown routing that has now been postponed. This is all related to the rerouting of buses away from Market Square, which has been delayed due to construction. Yes, if you want to revitalize Market Square, make sure bus riders are not waiting and getting off there. Luckily it seems they were able to add a disclaimer to the schedule before printing, but the maps inside are still incorrect.

The other interesting trend are the adjustments made to increase West Busway pickups heading to downtown. Three inbound and outbound rush hour trips have been added to the all-stops 33X, and restrictions at Sheraden Station on the 28X have been lifted. No new schedule for the 28X is listed on the website as of yet. The lot in Sheraden is currently at 95%, so adding all those new trips must be needed. The 28K Moon Express also picks up at Sheraden before heading downtown.

The 28X definitely should be examined. Right now, it picks up only going to the Airport, and discharges only going to Downtown and Oakland. I understand expediting the trip to the airport: your flight will leave with or without you. But I can see eliminating some stop restrictions during off-peak times, especially heading to Oakland, due to eliminations in midday 100 service to Oakland. The bus is often half-empty during the day, and passengers on the busway are passed up.

Wow that was nerdy. Ok, here's a real problem with the Port Authority website. Say you find an old schedule in your house. Is it still good? Some buses like my old 61C haven't been touched since March of 2007. Oh look, Port Authority has a list of routes and when their schedules were last updated! Oh, but it hasn't been updated since the March 2007 service changes. Yep, it hasn't been changed to reflect the June 2007 15% service cuts. Shameful.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Transit Strike in Pittsburgh?

Hi there! This post is from March 2008. As of December 2008, a strike has been averted. For the latest info, check out the Labor posts here at Peak Direction.

The Tribune-Review has reported that the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce is alerting its members to be ready for a possible Port Authority strike:
The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce is warning its members to prepare for the possibility that labor strife could force a Port Authority shutdown this summer.

The chamber advised its members in a letter to have a plan ready if talks break down, cutting off bus and T service to 220,000 daily riders, and has scheduled a brainstorming session March 27.

WTAE story also. More fighting words between Onorato and ATU president Patrick McMahon from October 2007. And here comes my prediction: Onorato might want to not budge on cutting costs in a new contract, even if it means a crippling strike. It might be the political move that saves his career from the negative reaction to the drink tax. Yes, a strike would be awful and could kill any hopes of the Port Authority aspiring to serve more people. But I just do not see much sympathy for the union in this town given most people's opinion of the Port Authority. (Not properly counting what's in the fare box doesn't help.)

It's times like this where I feel so conflicted about the Port Authority. I want this town to have better transit. However, I also realize the Port Authority has many issues including labor costs and priorities such as the North Shore Connector. However, those who criticize the Port Authority are often the ones who want to cut its funding, restrict its growth, or privatize it. If the police force is doing a bad job, you don't cut their funding, but people see transit differently. The Port Authority needs more money to expand service and make this city truly world-class. Yes, reforms and oversight are needed. But you don't throw the buses out with the bathwater.

Some think that transit has to be 100% solvent, which bothers me to no end. The Interstate System isn't solvent. Our airport and airline system isn't solvent. But we pay for these things even if we don't use them because our economy and the well-being of our citizens depend on them. You don't expect the pipes in your house to be a money maker, you just want them to get things where they need to be.

So I truly hope a contract is settled and the Port Authority can continue running, but I believe the public would be on Onorato's side if push came to shove. Maybe I'm underestimating union solidarity in our steel town.

The last strike was in 1992, and lasted at least 26 days until a court forced the operators back to work. (Wow, that was the same year as the newspaper strike that killed the Pittsburgh Press and allowed the Tribune-Review to rise.) Read about it in the New York Times:

Transit Union Walks Out, And Pittsburghers Walk (3/17/92)
No Subway, No Buses, But Plenty of Sore Feet (4/4/92)
Pittsburgh Judge Orders End To 26-Day-Old Transit Strike (4/11/92)

Perhaps the only good that would come from a transit strike would be a feeling of bosses and car-drivers everywhere realizing "Wow, people really ride those buses." They'll realize when lower-income workers have to call in sick or quit their downtown job. They'll realize it when there's more cars on the Parkway East and Route 51. They'll realize it when parking is $30 downtown due to demand. They'll realize it when their workers are less productive because they had to walk 45 minutes to work. And those bars who abhor the drink tax will have less college students lining up at their doors. Sometimes people need a reminder.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Look at America's Best Transit City

When the BBC wanted to look at where public transit was working in a 2006 series called "The Best Public Services in the World," they found their answer in America. And not in New York City or Chicago. They found it in Portland, Oregon. Home to TriMet, a regional transit operator that operates 3 light rail lines, a streetcar, and 92 bus lines (16 have service every 15 minutes.) The whole system has a GPS-based real-time information system based on numbers assigned to every stop. You can use stop numbers to call an automated phone number or visit a website to find out when you bus or train will arrive. The light rail serves the airport and the streetcar serves Portland State University. Also in town is an aerial tram, a network of bike lanes, and even a former freeway that is now an urban park. 96.9 million trips are taken every year, compared to 70 million on Port Authority. All of this in a metropolitan area with slightly less people than Pittsburgh metro area and a higher median income.

See the video of this system below, or click here: Part 1, Part 2.

Monday, February 25, 2008

PATH: A Tunnel in a River Turns 100 Today

While the costs escalate for our new subway tunnel, Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) turns 100 today. Originally linking Hoboken, New Jersey and Manhattan, the sunken tunnels first operated for trolleys on February 25th, 1908. You can read the original New York Times story from the day after, 2/26/1908, here in PDF form. The system now includes stops in Newark, Jersey City, and on two lines in Manhattan. The trains serve 227,000 daily passengers and the trains run 24 hours a day. And to celebrate, the train is free until 11pm tonight.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The 1421ft Shuttle Bus? And Other T Musings

Just announced on Post-Gazette: Gateway Center subway station is going to close for two years in May of next year to build a new station for the North Shore Connector. The current subway station will be replaced by a new one in 2011, probably due to Gateway Center's lack of an outbound platform. The crazy part of the story is this:
Service will end at the Wood Street T Station in the interm. Shuttle buses will be provided for riders who want to continue their trips by transit instead of walking to and from the Gateway Center area.
I one time took a T from Wood Street to Gateway Center and then laughed at myself for waiting to take a minute long ride. The distance between the two stations? 1421ft. And they're going to run a shuttle bus for a quarter mile? A bus that goes 3 blocks? Really? Might as well install a moving walkway like they have at Pittsburgh International Airport. Heck, remove one of the unused ones since they have to close a quarter of the gates. I just hope that if they do make a shuttle bus they expand it a bit, like the old 96A Golden Triangle free bus that circled downtown when people still shopped there.

And again, why does Port Authority still put Penn Station (Or maybe it's called Penn Park...) on some T maps? No trains ever run there, and even if they did they usually only ran twice a day. They did use the Penn Park station during the All-Star Game due to its proximity to the convention center. Wait a second, didn't the Port Authority try to connect the T to the Convention Center as part of the NSC only to cut it due to costs? Meet Glen Walsh, local transit advocate who proposed a plan to link the Penn Park station to both the Mellon Arena and Convention Center using elevated walkways. The City Paper even did a story on it, but the idea was rejected by the Port Authority. The station now just sits there, as does the starwell leading to "Track 3 Penn Park" in Steel Plaza. The far left side of that photo is the Penn Park platform that is now mothballed.

And putting a "future extension" arrow toward the airport when there's no funding or environmental impact plan or acquiring of right of way? Genius.

CORRECTION: The 96A was a reduced fare route, not a free route.

2/23: Full P-G story here. I'm still confused, how will cars transfer from inbound to outbound if the loop at Gateway Center is closed? Will they just reverse? Wait, that's not possible, like two cars in the same elevator shaft... right?

UPDATE again: Turns out I deleted the oh-so-clever map that I created to accompany this story. I'll try to get it back later.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pittsburgh Transit Blog Roundup

It's that time again to see what Pittsburgh bloggers say about transit...

25th Anniversary of the East Busway

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, a dedicated transit-only highway between Downtown and Swissvale serving 12 communities and 26,000 riders daily on 32 routes. For scheduling information on those 32 routes, including the EBA, EBS, and EBO, click here. To celebrate, the Port Authority is holding a contest announced in this week's City Paper. Pick up a copy, answer the questions listed in the ad (look for it early in the paper), and you could win a $25 gift card for... the Port Authority. Aw, come on, they have money troubles.

I've ridden buses on the East Busway before, and you'll be amazed how quickly you can get home. As you can guess, I occasionally ride the 61C to McKeesport. If it's rush hour, the trip from Oakland to McKeesport can take 50 minutes. On the schedule. It takes about 65 minutes in real time since it seems it takes 30 minutes just to ride the length of Murray Avenue. And don't even mention the trouble to get on in Oakland due to overcrowding.

And then I found the 58C and 58P buses. They only run rush hours in the peak direction, but they can take me from Oakland to McKeesport in about 25-30 minutes. Yeah, it's ridiculously fast. The only problem? I have to catch it at Negley Station on the East Busway, which thankfully is served by the EBO, 71A and 71C. So it takes a transfer, but it's worth it in time and saving frustration.

The East Busway's quick connections to Eastern suburbs could be in jeopardy as the Rankin Bridge will be partly closed starting in May. The old bridge is rated "structurally deficient," so an upgrade is much needed. But traffic due to lane restrictions could slow down the buses which exit the busway in Swissvale. No word from the Port Authority whether buses will be rerouted.

And a little trivia: did you know city and county officials sometimes get busway passes? Former Port Authority board chairman and county executive Jim Roddey had one, until he gave it up due to controversy. A Post-Gazette writer rode with him right before he turned in his pass. Roddey even auctioned it off (voided) at a charity auction for $400.

Could other vehicles use the busway perhaps? It's been mentioned before, with Yellow Cab saying they'd pay for the privilege. It came up again during Onorato's wish list for transit between Oakland, Pittsburgh, and the Airport (covered here in November). The Post-Gazette was quick to say that the federal government might not be too happy using a busway as a turnpike though.

So happy 25th East Busway! You're not the T, but that's ok.

Oh, and P.S., if you enter the contest, just look at the first link in this post. All the answers are there. And if you're interested in more history about the busway, PAHighways has lots of info, including the controversy over the 2003 expansion.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Election 2008 - Where Obama and McCain Stand on Transit

Continuing our series on the 2008 Presidental Primary, it's time to look at the other major candidates: Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain. For the position of Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee on transit, see my previous post.

And a note for any supporters of any of these candidates that may visit this site: if you believe I have portrayed a candidate incorrectly, please contact me with a quote or link to the candidate's website that states otherwise.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama, as an Illinois State Senator, has some history fighting for fair transit in his home of Chicago, for example this 2003 letter about conditions on a Metra commuter line serving black neighborhoods.

In his Energy platform, Obama discusses how to promote transit by offering the same tax breaks drivers have "to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal." In addition, he states he wishes to "re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country." In his specific Transportation plan recently released, he states the following objectives:
  • Support Amtrak Funding
  • Support Development of High-Speed Freight and Passenger Rail
  • Improve Transportation Access to Jobs
The final one seems to be the most emphasized part of Obama's plan for transit, which will "ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities." He also supports a $60 Billion National Infrastructure Bank, similar to a Senate bill proposed earlier this year.

Overall, Obama's plan has more of a social-justice bent to it, making sure that everyone can access a job no matter where they live or whether they can afford a car. Pushing this point further is Obama's Gulf Coast plan that involves improving bus and rail transit in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The idea of a infrastructure bank is shared by Clinton, who claimed Obama stole her idea. Oh well, I'd rather have stolen good ideas than bad novel ones. He does not give the concrete $1.5B number that Clinton gives to improve transit, but overall it appears he is dedicated to making transit and rail part of the infrastructure improvements this nation desperately needs.

John McCain

I keep searching, but I cannot find anything on his website John McCain has planned for improving mass transportation. The only significant thing I can present is John McCain's record on Amtrak: for privatization and against expansion. The "pork" McCain pledges to cut may be referring to federal funding for transportation projects.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Election 2008 - Where Clinton and Huckabee Stand on Transit

Tonight I want to finally begin my series of posts on Presidential candidates and where they stand on transit. Is transit a federal issue? It sure is: federal funding for transit projects is $9 billion dollars a year. So I searched around for what the candidates on both sides have to say about the role the federal government should play in mass transit and the role mass transit plays in our society. Note that this is based purely on the candidates' speeches, interviews, and platforms. Feasibility or sincereness of these plans is outside of my realm.

And a note for any supporters of any of these candidates that may visit this site: if you believe I have portrayed a candidate incorrectly, please contact me with a quote or link to the candidate's website that states otherwise.

Our first post is about Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president and Mike Huckabee, Republican candidate for president. (To see my post about Obama and McCain, click here.)

Hillary Clinton

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has the most direct mention of transit on her website:

Increase federal funding for public transit by $1.5 billion per year. Increased public transit usage is arguably the best strategy for ameliorating the energy and environmental costs of transportation. As energy costs rise, more people will rely on public transportation. Today, only 5% of Americans commute by public transit, but doubling that figure could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%. Public transit is also critically important to people who live in urban areas and rely on buses and trains for travel to work and school. Moreover, as the population ages, an increasing number of people will need public transit as their ability to drive diminishes. Hillary will increase federal investment in public transit by $1.5 billion per year to ensure needed capacity expansions and service level improvements.

In addition, she proposes an investment of "an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems" such as Amtrak. This is all part of her "Rebuild America Plan" that was promoted in the aftermath of the Minnesota Bridge Collapse. This plan appears to be very ambitious, but I personally am glad to see mass transportation being mentioned in our infrastructure crisis.

Other links:
Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee also has a plan for renewing our infrastructure. Personally, I'll state I'm a Democratic voter, but his emphasis on the need for our infrastructure to be rebuilt caught me by surprise in a a recent interview. He makes the connection between jobs and economic stimulus with infrastructure expansion. For example, he has a plan to expand I-95 on the East Coast by adding two lanes. Unfortunately, I was watching the video and was waiting for any mention of transit as part of the solution. He does not seem to emphasize that as much as airport and highway expansion.

However, Huckabee does have a plan on his website for infrastructure, and does mention transit:

So we must also look at longer-term ways to grow local economies and our national economy by: first, easing congestion by emphasizing road expansion and mass-transit investment; second, funding strategic capital improvement projects to make more localities attractive to new businesses and workers; and third, rebuilding the infrastructure of our "tools for trade" such as improvements to and expansions of our seaports and airports.

We must link land use and transportation planning. It is folly, for example, to provide rail service to places that don't have the density to make it work.

Properly used, public transportation can reduce congestion and emissions, lower our demand for oil, and improve accessibility.

See also his statement on infrastructure from another debate. Further details on his transit plan are sketchy, but I see he does have some part of his vision for transit. I just personally think adding lanes to highways just leads to more congestion and does not solve any problems relating to the environment. Expanding high speed train service to all parts of the east coast? Now that would be something.

Friday, February 8, 2008

South Side Buses Rerouted due to Birmingham Bridge Closure

NOTE: The Birmingham Bridge fully reopened 9/6/08. This blog post is for archival purposes only.

A rider alert: South Side buses, including the 54C and 59U, have been rerouted due to the indefinite closure of the Birmingham Bridge. Apparently the bridge has dropped 8 inches due to a girder slippage. The bridge was closed this morning without incident, and has no definite date of reopening. This causes problems for some South Side buses (51E, 54C, 59U, 84A, 84B, and 84C.) You can read the Rider Alert from the Port Authority here. Here's the official detour routing also. This will cause problems for East Carson St. visitors on the 54C, since the bus will no longer serve 19th-22nd Street and Carson. Port Authority is not stating which stops have been added to the 54C, but I would guess that stops would be added between 10th and 18th Street. South Side Works service on the 59U should not be affected, but expect delays.

Here's the part where I'd say call the Port Authority (412-442-2000) for more information, but they're closed right now. Damn. They are open for calls 6am-7pm Monday-Friday and 8am-4:30pm Weekends and Holidays.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Public Transit... to Another Country?

A little trivia for everyone tonight.

Not counting a few Amtrak routes (Adirondack to Montreal, Cascades to Vancouver, and Maple Leaf to Toronto), are there any public transit routes between the United States and another country?

Ok, so if you know anything about current events, the border between Mexico and the United States is a hot topic. So I think a United States transit agency would be very reluctant to run service to Mexico even with customs control. San Diego comes very close to the border on their trolley service but does not cross it. El Paso Sun Transit does not go across the Rio Grande, and neither does Laredo El Metro.

But what about our neighbor to the north, eh? Yes, I found the Tunnel Bus. This service, run by Transit Windsor, connects Detroit with Windsor, Ontario through the submerged Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Service is offered 7 days a week and costs $3.75. I was about to ask whether that was Canadian or American dollars, but I guess it doesn't matter much right now. Just remember the holiday schedule is based on Canadian holidays.