Monday, January 17, 2005

Train in vain

The federal government, which is bankrolling the Port Authority's North Shore T extension, has the nerve to demand the authority be able to balance its budget and afford the extenion's $740,000 annual operating costs before federal funds will be released for the project. I have a better idea: Kill this boondoggle altogether. The Port Authority ignored cheaper alternatives for the T extension in choosing to tunnel under the Allegheny River, and besides, there is no real demand for this. There is plenty of parking available for Pirates and Steelers games, and residents will see little benefit because with few exceptions they'll still have to take a bus to Downtown, unless they feel like hoofing it to the T.

Is it any wonder rural and suburban legislators are telling the Port Authority, hat in hand and threatening to cut service and raise fares, to get bent?


Blogger fester said...

Good, glad someone is being somewhat responsible somewhere on the money chain. I agree completely with you, the preferred policy option is to do nothing, the not horrendous waste of resources is the route through Penn station, over the 11th Street Rail bridge, and then either up to the North Hills or out to the Western communities along the Ohio by using pre-existing rail lines, and the really bad option is the tunnel and stop a mile away. If the city/county wants to provide comfortable transportation to the Steelers games from downtown, they could do so with the big comfortable touring buses chartered for 10 Sundays a year. Now why this should be a public service is beyond me, but it could be done way cheaper than the subway line.

Second note; as I understand it, PAT and SEPTA are a combined ~$95 million in the hole, and the other state regional transit agencies are facing roughly $30 million in combined deficits. The most recent fix as I heard on the radio this morning would be a bail out of this amount and then another $350 million in annual yearly rural road upgrades. I love how the urban areas get screwed in this state.

8:32 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I agree that this state is not kind to cities--just look at the Mon-Fayette Expressway. But I also think that the Port Authority needs to totally re-think the way it does business.

8:38 AM

Blogger fester said...

Furrow has some good ideas and knowledge about the Port Authority. From the post that I am linking to above, I agree with you, the Port Authority is overbuilt, especially with the light rail system, and its accounting system is absolutely horrendous so it is difficult to measure its successful routes by anything other than ridership figures.

I really don't have any good ideas on how to reform Port Authority besides re-routing buses and moving away from a Downtown only focus of transit. I would love to see more crosstown routes. I would also like to see more jitneys and cheap for hire cabs as part of an integrated regional transit strategy. I just don't know how to get these ideas tested out first, and then implemented if they are good ideas.

9:01 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

State law pretty much ensures a monopoly taxi system. If I understand it correctly, if you want to offer taxi service, you need to prove that your competitors aren't adequately serving the market, and they get a chance to respond. It would be like Giant Eagle having a veto over whether someone wanted to open a Foodland down the street.

I think we need to look at the T, for one thing. I like light rail, but in Allegheny County, it's a convenience that largely benefits affluent commuters. It is quicker and more comfortable than an equivalant bus ride--shouldn't it perhaps cost more, at least for people who are paying the fare and not using a pass? And why not charge more for it during holiday events, like the Fourth of July? It would still be more convenient than parking and fighting traffic if it were a quarter more for major events.

10:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's always forgotten about these policy decisions are the Old Testament notions of greed and vanity. Of course there is no prudent reason to extend the T under a major American river to serve an area of town notable for twin pyramids to athletic ostentation and some hardscrabble neighborhoods near a formerly bankrupt hospital.

The only reason to do this is because contractors want you to do this. Imagine all the millions of dollars flushed not into the Allegheny, but into the coffers of corporations that, oddly enough, line the pockets of pols from here to Harrisburg and beyond?

What, no metrics for showing that such an extension (or, indeed, much of the Port Authority's service routes) is necessary? What metrics displayed the urgent need for baseball and football stadia? A Mon-Fayette Expressway? The Pittsburgh "subway" many moons ago or a Fifth & Forbes rebirth now?

No. You need a Kierkegaardian leap of fiscal faith to justify such boondoggles, and the more we leap the sooner we get to the necessary oversight of three old white men of ample means and little patience for graft, and the metrics we have to justify their existence are scribbled in red ink across the city's budget.

Of course, I'm not implying that the city and county entities that suckled from the teat of patronage and filthy contractor lucre are the same political beast as the Port Authority.

I will, however, say that those who direct the Authority are cut from the same cloth, share the same temptations and lack the same number of brain cells, give or take, as those who also give and, more often, take.

It's always an oddity for this longtime Democrat, albeit originally from a good government state, to plead like a country club Republican for the cleansing disinfectant of market forces to replace the brutal hand of cronyism. But isn't it our only hope?

10:45 AM

Blogger Mark Rauterkus said...

The RUNNEL, (chunnel like tunnel but under a "R"iver) as I've heard it called, is much like Pittsburgh's Big Dig. Well, Boston's Big Dig is done, mostly, except it leaks.

Expect a ton of cost hikes should they start.

Look at the Wabash Tunnel. A joke.

I do think we could make a national campaign and model it after the spam that comes from Africa. "Oh, $425-million could be yours. It sits in a bank account waiting for you to spend it elsewhere. Just put a fork in this mess in Pittsburgh, under the rivers." (something like that...)

2:14 PM


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