No more free rides
Jake Haulk and Eric Montarti of the conservative Allegheny Institute write in today's Trib in praise of the Port Authority's long overdue proposal to outsource 20 percent of its bus service and vehicle maintenance to private contractors:
This is a radical idea in Pittsburgh. But it is not one without experience in other parts of the country. The Denver Regional Transportation District has contracted out a portion of its non-rail mass transit service since 1988. Recent amendments to the state law that created the outsourcing arrangement raised the level of bus service provided by qualified private carriers to 50 percent.
Under Denver's arrangement, the district owns the buses, solicits bids and determines routes while leaving driving and maintenance to contractors. The savings are substantial. Operating costs per vehicle hour were lower, as were hourly wages for contracted drivers and mechanics. In addition, the wage progression for district personnel was much more rapid than for contractors. Based on recent numbers, the district is saving at least $30 million per year due to the contracting program, and that number will rise over time.
A similar plan could bring down costs in Allegheny County's system. Bus passenger trips per hour are lower than comparable systems while per-passenger expenses are higher. Put alongside systems in 20 other cities -- including New York, Atlanta, and Detroit -- average hourly wages for drivers, operation costs and driver wages per passenger trip are well out of line.
Closer to home, our research on mass transit service in Western Pennsylvania shows that authority driver wages are far higher than those of the Beaver County Transit Authority, the Mid-Mon Valley Transit Authority and the Westmoreland County Transit Authority. The Mid-Mon Valley and Westmoreland County authorities do not directly operate their buses; they contract out service to private operators.
The union that represents Port Authority workers, of course, is dead set against the proposal. Perhaps they should consider the alternative--escalating costs that lead to fare hikes and service cuts, which in turn drive down ridership, further eroding revenues. And Ed Rendell won't be governor forever. Pennsylvania may one day have a chief executive less sympathetic to mass transit and less willing to circumvent the Legislature to fund it. Business as usual is over.