Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To the PAT Board, 2012-02-29

February 29 @5:27pm speech to the PAT Board and CEO Steve Bland

Honorable members of the Board, and Mr. Bland, good afternoon, I am Stuart Strickland, from McCandless Township, a regular rider of the O12 McKnight Flyer, 12 McKnight and soon to be cut 2 Mount Royal bus routes. I already lost my Perry Highway routes in the 2011 service cuts and so walk most of a mile each way to get a bus every day.

As every properly informed person in the room knows, PAT didn’t cause this problem, state government did, through its persistent refusal to accept that public transportation does require tax subsidy to run properly. As every properly informed politician knows, spending money on public transit actually earns money for the state in allowing the wheels of commerce to turn efficiently in the denser urban areas that generate most of the state’s revenues. But the misinformed and willfully ignorant are in power at the moment, so here we are.

What can PAT do? The short answer is to convince 50,000 people in Pittsburgh – who do not now use public transit – to drop $990 or $1,430 as I just did to buy an annual bus pass. Selling 50,000 passes would raise the $60 million PAT needs to avoid the cuts. That would do it, that would fix the problem, plain and simple, without any help from government.

This points out the real problem. In the last 30 years or so, 50,000 Pittsburgh families have abandoned transit, choosing instead to spend five times what an annual pass costs, to have a car instead of using a bus system. How do you reverse 30 years of that in two months? You don’t do it by threatening to cut service. But to emphasize, it is not getting 50,000 current riders to drop upwards of a grand on an annual pass, but 50,000 who are not paying fare now. It would also help greatly to reinstate the six-month pass, charging for five-and-a-half months, even three months for two-and-three-quarters, bringing the out-of-pocket cost down to that of an average muffler or brake job. And that’s who you have to sell it to, not riders, but people trying to keep two or three or four cars on the road, and going broke doing so.

In the short run, PAT can and should conduct more than a PR campaign, it needs an anti-BS campaign. There is so much misinformation out there that no rational conversation can take place without first undoing the misinformation, person by person, company by company. Selling thousand-dollar items on a potentially shrinking system requires a leap of faith. I took it, but I was already paying fare. Now to get 50,000 people to do likewise.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My letter to Rep. Mike Turzai, and the first ConnectCard

New PAT annual bus pass & receipt

February 17, 2012

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai

Dear Mike,

What good is a job if you can't get to it? I disagree with your views about Port Authority. I speak as a rider and historian, one who studies transit systems worldwide. Contrary to popular belief, Port Authority is not mismanaged, its staff and CEO and union drivers are not overpaid, and it is run efficiently. Five or ten or more years ago you could probably say that, but not today; 10 or 20 years ago you could say their unions were to blame but not today. 

There is a simple way to solve Port Authority's problems and a simpler one. The simple one, which you will oppose, is to hand them the $50M more they need this year and every year. The simpler one requires you to do nothing legislatively, other than change your tune, and that is to encourage 50,000 families in the area who do not now use transit, to spend over $1,000 apiece to buy an annual bus pass (photo attached, with receipt, purchased Feb. 16). 50,000 passes at an average $1,200 apiece = $60 million. Problem solved, you didn't have to do a thing. Every single one of those 50K families will likely halve their transportation expense by using transit instead of a second/third car. In my book, that's pro-family, a major talking point for Republicans.

To get to that, you and the other Republican leadership, and your friends at the Allegheny Institute and KQV 1410 and the Tribune-Review and various talk show hosts, need to stop trash talking the Port Authority. The system works -- I ride it daily -- and it would work better if it didn't have a piano hanging on a thin rope over its head year after year. Their biggest internal problem is not unions but rather a shortage of white collar staff to administer information systems to make it easier for people to use the system to get around. As an example, in the fully operational pre-4/2011 system, I knew how to do a triple transfer from my home in McCandless just off Perry by Perrymont Road -- using a 9 Perry Hwy to O1 Ross Flyer to G2 West Busway to 32 Campbells Run, to get to school at the University of Phoenix campus in Robinson. Most people cannot figure this out, but they could if they had better information, which PAT could provide if they had the computer professionals to implement software systems, which they could hire if they had not had to reduce their I.T. staff in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011, and likely again this year, which they would not have had to do if they had been funded properly. Fund them, let them put the TDP-designed system in place (as required by Act 44, as requested by Republicans in the 2005 budget deal), thus making it convenient for people to get around using transit, and the system can grow itself.

PNC is building yet another skyscraper Downtown. It will house 3,000 workers, many of whom will be your constituents in the North Hills. It will have parking for 300. I don't think a couple hundred people living in your district are going to bicycle up Federal Street at the end of every day. (Try it sometime!) But how else are they going to get there? Already the O12 bus is filling to capacity at Showcase Park & Ride; I know because I'm five bus stops down McKnight from it and I'm already standing going into town, on the longer 60-foot articulated buses. You would cut this further? Privatizing the system will not fix that problem.

This constant fear of cuts, this constant "always going broke", reinforces the idea that transit is not reliable. Stop it! This goes absolutely counter to your efforts at job creation. Kill enough transit, big companies will leave Pittsburgh. Maybe some will go to Cranberry, but some may go to Charlotte or Cleveland.

Your anti-transit talk is NOT helpful. Change your mind or change your tune. Thank you.

Stuart Strickland