Port Authority Transit is Riding Me

Somebody at Port Authority Transit must have a screw loose.

Port Authority transit cutbacks are biggest in history

The series of bus and trolley changes include eliminating:

  • 124 of 213 weekday bus routes.
  • 55 of 100 Saturday bus routes.
  • 26 of 75 Sunday and holiday bus routes.

Light-rail service would be trimmed by cutting hours of operation and increasing the time between trolleys. Besides reducing the number of daily transit vehicle hours, the changes would reduce the number of one-way vehicle trips by 24 percent and overall ridership by 11 percent, the authority has estimated.

PAT and county officials are claiming that the proposed cuts aren’t meant to scare Harrisburg into bailing them out again. Let’s suppose for the moment that they aren’t (yeah, right). That doesn’t mean PA’s government can wash its hands of this mess. Philadelphia faces similar problems, and what hurts the two major metropolitan regions in PA, hurts the whole state.

Apparently Gov. Rendell has more important issues to deal with. He’s busy bending over backwards to accommodate the Penguins’ demands in an effort to keep them in Pittsburgh. The last time the PAT and SEPTA cried about how broke they are, Rendell miraculously “found” some surplus money in the state budget (and I’m still wondering where the hell it came from) and then patted himself on the back for “solving” the problem. His new solution seems to to just ignore the problem. Judging by how easily he was reelected, Pennsylvanians aren’t too bothered by his style of leadership.

As for the state’s legislators, they thought giving themselves a raise was more important than solving fiscal crises such as those faced by transit systems. Many paid the price for that arrogance on election day. I wonder if their replacements, or the remaining incumbents, will continue to navel gaze.

Then again, given that PAT and SEPTA are bloated and in desperate need of responsible and efficient management, could ignoring their cries of “Wolf!” be the right idea after all? No. Punishing them for their mismanagement by ignoring their budget crises and underfunding them isn’t the answer. “Poor planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine,” says the old proverb, and if PAT and SEPTA bureaucrats were the only ones affected by such “tough love”, I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, the citizens of Allegheny and Philadelphia will suffer if PAT and SEPTA have to make major service cuts.

Here’s the money quote of the article:

[Allegheny County Mr. Onorato said the nation’s 28th-largest county can no longer afford the nation’s 15th-largest public transit system.

Ah, good old lies and statistics. Does he mean population or by geography, budget or number of routes?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Those numbers are just meant to confound and placate you. They don’t tell you that places to park are too few and too expensive for a lot of people, that traffic is already a nightmare and fewer buses will force more people to drive, or that Allegheny County has a lot of elderly folks who are dependent on buses for transportation. What the county really can’t afford is to let the public transportation system rot from within.

Is PAT in desperate need of an overhaul? Absolutely. Should residents of Allegheny County be punished for PAT’s bloat and ineptitude? No. This isn’t what folks have in mind when they expect PAT to ride them*.

The complete list of proposed changes can be found here. The PDF includes a number to call and complain and a list of public hearing dates. I encourage folks to give PAT a piece of their minds. Even better, suggest alternatives to this nonsense, like introducing an Octopus card or paying bus drivers less.

*In Pittsburgh slang, saying “PAT is riding me” means “PAT is transporting me” or “PAT is giving me a ride [to some destination(s)]”. Idiomatic uses of “to ride” include “to ridicule or harass persistently” and “to control, dominate, or tyrannize over”. Given PAT’s reason for being and what it’s reportedly going to do to me (and anyone else in Allegheny County dependent on public transportation), I thought the play on words fit.

Update: According to Ken Zapinski, senior VP of transportation and infrastructure at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, this nonsense isn’t a scare tactic. We’ll see.

Update: Save Our Transit is organizing a rally to protest the proposed service cuts and fare increases.

Addendum: There are a couple interesting posts on this topic at the Burgh Report.

Rethinking Public Transportation

Perhaps the Port Authority is not a business. Perhaps having a network of busses and trains that run from point to point throughout the city is a basic element of civic infrastructure, existing not as commerce, but to facilitate commerce.


Currently, the bus network is run as a public corporation. That means that it is a government controlled entity trying to operate as a business, but without a genuine profit motive. In other words, it is a non-viable bastard child of the private and public sector. Instead, what I am saying we should be doing is treating the transportation network not as a public corporation, a strange public-private business hybrid struggling to break even, but as a public service contracted out to the lowest bidder.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

6 thoughts on “Port Authority Transit is Riding Me

  1. Mark Rauterkus

    Thanks for the pointers.

    YES. Suggest alternatives to PAT’s plan. PAT needs to do its homework and think again — and use real data this time.

    But, PAT doesn’t have data as we’ve got this old-fashioned way of doing business. Squeeky wheels get oil — and everyone else gets a ripped slip of paper for a bus transfer.

    We need electronic bus passes that are debit cards and monitor TRIP SEGMENTS, as well as zillions of other factors. The benefits would be HUGE. And, this needs to happen BEFORE an overhaul occurs.

    Their SCORECARD is a joke. I hate it. I told them so last month as they started to shove this down our throats. But, that’s what a hatchet man aims for — the blood supply to the head.

    Think again PAT. We should not settle for anything other than a cross-the-board 20-percent pay and benefits cut for everyone — until AFTER we’ve deployed this E-Z Pass (like) bus pass and make decisions based on reality with open-data.

  2. Lightwave

    Too bad about that pesky contract law. Makes it a bit hard to get those 20% cuts from the union while they have a contract.

    Besides, why cut any wages when they can cry “the sky is falling” and get the state to keep giving them cash every time they run out?

  3. Mark Rauterkus

    Union could decide to re-open the contract.

    But, there isn’t much — if any — trust now. They would NOT want to make the cuts unless there is a real upside.

    That is another reason to interject the electronic bus pass system. Then the union and public will be able to see the data too. Decisions are not a ‘trust us’ basis — but — real ridership, real capacity, real costs, real segment performances, etc.

  4. Jim

    This looks really awful, but railing against undefined mismanagement only lets everyone not face up to the problems.

    Labor costs in Pittsburgh are higher than a lot of cities, but driving these hills is not an easy job. It would be nice if labor voluntered to give up its wages, but I wouldn’t hold my breath that too many people would be willing to do that in their own respective sectors.

    Farebox revenue contributes about 25% of operating costs, much less than Philly but about average for the US.

    Electronic passes may be great ideas, but hardly silver bullets.

    The question is whether there is any enthusiasm to pay more in either fares or in taxes.

  5. Mark Rauterkus

    Great ideas need to be implemented.

    Don’t freeze and do nothing — or way worse, do the wrong thing — because a great idea is NOT a silver bullet.

    But more to the point that I want to make, the route to a better transit system includes an A-B-C pathway. Things get done, first, second, third, etc.

    The electronic bus pass deployment should come NEXT. It provides real data. Then with real data, the cuts can be made in a smarter manner. And, trust comes back into the system — even with the unions. And live for passengers gets much better too.

    The mismanagement at the root of the problem is hit against with electronic bus passes. That’s a big problem — so attack it.

    Now we’ll have mismanagement doing more mismanagement by cutting the wrong things.

    Finally, with electronic bus passes, you can talk about raising fares in appropriate ways. Perhaps the express ride from Crannberry is worth $7.00. That is easily managed on a fare card / debit system. The supply and demand can be watched and prices can be adjusted as needed — system wide.

  6. Pingback: An Information Science Solution to Pittsburgh Public Transit Woes @ Ales Rarus

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