Friday, January 26, 2018

5 Musts, 5 Shoulds, 10 Like-tos for the new Port Authority CEO

A transit company can do its day-to-day work just fine without a CEO. The buses and trains run, stuff gets fixed or plowed or paid for, as appropriate, and existing projects lumber along to their eventual completion. Upper-level staff can do the routine directing to allocate people, materials and money. What the CEO does, though, is define that direction. She figures out what major work should get done. She makes the connections to keep the money flowing. She thinks outside the box, brings in new ideas, and sometimes has to say no. Some top staff can be placeholder CEOs, but what we really need is a visionary who can also manage.

I think we have that person in Katherine Eagan Kelleman.

We in the advocacy and advisory world must grasp this opportunity to work with the new CEO. What are those things that were asked for 20 years ago and just couldn't ever get done, for whatever reason, yet are still needed? What problems have never gone away? Now is the time to ask all those old questions again. Now is also the time to bring to attention that the world has changed, and we simply cannot do things the way we always used to.

Ask all the questions. Again. Only put some order to it. I ask of everyone to categorize them into "must-do", "should-do" and "like-to-do". I have my bigger wish list, and it's far longer than 20 items. But these 20 always keep coming back, 10 of those are big, and five of those are paramount. 

What are yours? These are mine.

Five Musts

1. A stable, reliable revenue source for the operating budget
Funding the transit system each year has been an ongoing problem ever since PAAC was formed over 50 years ago. We thought we had it solved in 1986, 1991 and 2013, only to see the legs of the stool kicked out yet again. For once and for all, solve this.

2. Peace between labor and management
We have one of the strongest labor unions in the country in ATU 85. This is fine if they’re happy. The customer suffers, the city and county and region suffer, if they are not. Get their leadership on board with any needed changes.

3. Management accountability beyond reproach
Love or hate Barack Obama, one thing he did right was to hold his staff to a level of professionalism such that there was not one firing, not one scandal, not one resignation, in his entire eight-year presidency. Do likewise.

4. Vastly better rider information delivery
The Achilles Heel of riding transit is not having truly usable travel information in a form and at the time it is needed. Not incremental but exponential improvements are in order. Think of it this way: Any use of a car where transit could get the job done is a failure of information delivery.

5. The respect of the ridership
Admittedly the most nebulous, subjective, and unattainable goal on this list. You will never get there, but you’ll know if you’re headed in the right (or wrong!) direction. Do the other 19 things and this will follow.

Five shoulds

1. Return to 24-hour service on a few routes
We had it on six routes with plans to expand to eight. One of the annual cash crunches killed this. Solve the funding problem and this will solve itself.

2. 50% ridership increase in three years
We have about 110,000 warm bodies who use the system daily. Decades ago, that was more like 200K. What will it take to top 150K?

3. Restore routes cut in 2011, along with complete implementation of TDP
The Transit Development Plan grew out of a 2008 study (Connect ‘09) at the behest of (urban public transit hating) state legislators in the FY06 funding fight, who insisted the system become more efficient, more cost effective, more responsive to riders’ needs. But because of the March 2011 cuts, the plan was never fully implemented. Solve the funding problem and finish this long overdue task.

4. A fifth bus division
Harmar Division was shut down in that same 2011 cut. But don’t rebuild Harmar. Site a division as close to downtown as possible, and run all that 24-hour service out of it, thus freeing the outer divisions to better serve the farther reaches of the county.

5. Rebuild the complaint system
“Dysfunctional.” “Black hole.” “Worse than useless.” Those are the family friendly terms used to describe it. How does any other system handle complaints?

Ten like-to-dos

1. Free fares
While resolving the revenue problem, aim high. Do it without paid fares. You are running a horizontal elevator system. Does a building landlord charge fares to get tenants and their customers to upper floors?

2. Vastly cleaner rolling stock
However we’re doing it, the floors and seats are usually disgusting, and are a lot of why riders jettison the system as soon as they are able. Yes, I know some buses are in motion 21 hours a day. Other cities don't have persistently filthy buses.

3. Revamp the lost-and-found system
Tying in with the dysfunctional complaint system, it’s not out of line to say that if lost articles are reunited with their owners, it’s a miracle. Sometimes it happens, usually it doesn’t.

4. Resolve debate over whether a bus is in service when on/off-road or cross-country
A long standing labor-management dispute. Several locations in the area have meager to no service despite a steady flow of buses going past. Operators won’t let them on because of this argument. Again, the rider suffers, and people use cars more.

5. Vast expansion of bike parking & bike rental at light rail, busway, and high-usage stops.
The world is changing. People use their own bikes, people rent bikes, and we may yet get a dockless bike share system. But hardly any of the high-use stops via any mode have a high capacity bike rack. Even neighborhood stops could use a two-bike lockup like the Three Rivers racks.

6. No-drop cell service on entire light rail system
Dead zones in tunnels and underground sections seriously discourage ridership.

7. Bicycle usage of the Wabash Tunnel
There is only one of the 12 routes to bike downtown from south of Mount Washington without either climbing an enormous hill or taking your life in your hands, and Port Authority disallows it, due to an ancient and arbitrary decision based on a bad design. Change the rule.

8. A more useful website. Specifically, less overhead, more substance, far faster.
Trying to use the website on a slow line or old phone is painful. Lose the glitz, pack an order of magnitude more information on it, and make it easier to navigate. How does any other system do this?

9. Return of 6-month farecard subscription, as well as 3-month, 30-day and 7-day options.
The six-month subscription was lost in the same FY02 crunch that killed 24-hour service because it was considered too costly to administer. With the move to electronic farecards and 16 years of technology improvements, this objection is no longer relevant. Similarly, a seven-day pass is not the same as a weekly. These could be bought in advance and given out as gift cards. The clock starts ticking the first day it is used and ends after six days later. Ditto 30-day cards. Think of a 7-day pass as valid from a Wednesday to a Tuesday, or a 30-day pass valid from the 14th to the 13th.

10. Seamless connections to nearby public transit systems, Amtrak, private carriers, and aviation.
Make it possible and even easy to transfer between systems from nearby counties, as well as aviation and Amtrak. Aviation: The 28X stops service long before many flights arrive. Amtrak: Trains arrive at horrid times, 5:30a eastbound, 11:30p westbound, when transit availability is meager. Everything else: It’s nigh impossible to move safely between an unused piece of the light rail system, the East Busway, the Amtrak station, Greyhound, a large parking garage, and Megabus's pickup stop by the Convention Center -- a distance of only 400 feet -- any time of day. Fixing any of this is going to cost money, probably a lot. Make it happen, and Pittsburgh becomes a beacon of intermodal travel.

I urge everyone to join the Allegheny County Transit Council, the officially recognized citizens' advisory group for Port Authority of Allegheny County. Contact me for details.

1 comment:

  1. Related: My speech to the PAT Board on Fri Jan 26:

    Speech to Port Authority Board and new CEO Katherine Eagan Kelleman
    January 26, 2018

    Good morning, members of the Board and Ms. Kelleman.
    Welcome to Pittsburgh, Ms. Kelleman!
    My name is Stuart Strickland. I commute mainly by bus, often by bicycle, from McCandless Township in the North Hills.

    I am the current Treasurer and a past President of the Allegheny County Transit Council.
    For over 30 years, ACTC has been the official riders' voice to the board, management and staff of Port Authority.

    Ms. Kelleman, I am pleased that you've gone to some effort to do community outreach, to involve the riding public. For those unaware, she spoke to ACTC at its meeting last Wednesday.

    At that same meeting, I proposed that each member write down their own suggestions for the direction they want to see Ms. Kelleman take Port Authority in the coming years. I requested these ideas in the form of:
    * 5 things that MUST happen
    * 5 things that SHOULD happen
    * 10 things they would LIKE TO see nhappen
    ACTC will compile these in the coming weeks and present the top entries in each category.

    As an example, I will share my own five "must-do" entries.
    1. A stable, reliable revenue source for the operating budget
    2. Peace between labor and management
    3. Management accountability beyond reproach
    4. Vastly better rider information delivery
    5. The respect of the ridership

    I will not belabor you all to hear my other 15 entries, other than to say they are more nuts-and-bolts suggestions.

    Since this invitation was also extended to the guests present at the meeting, I will reiterate it here, with a further invitation to join ACTC.

    If you want a say in advising Port Authority, please assemble your own 5-5-10 list and send it in with an application to join us.

    I believe Ms. Kelleman is the right choice to lead the way forward, and I am glad we have gotten off to a good start. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak, and I thank everyone who would like to pitch in and help.