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.