Friday, May 28, 2010

PA Transportation Crisis: Port Authority Impact

Port Authority CEO Steve Bland's remarks to the Authority's Board of Directors regarding the impact of the statewide transportation crisis.

Delivered during the Board's regular monthly meeting, May 28, 2010

Last month, I cautioned that we’d soon be grappling with the statewide transportation funding crisis, and now, that time has arrived.

Since I arrived at Port Authority in 2006, we've experienced great progress in many areas and also endured a few low points too. Through it all, we've focused on finding ways to improve the agency and how it serves this community, with a specific focus on efficiency. But as we all know, change isn't always easy.

We’ve trimmed routes, eliminated positions and scaled back benefit levels. As a board, you’ve made some very difficult choices in a relatively short amount of time.

It's paid off. These moves have saved some $52 million in annual operating expenses – nearly matching the $60 million called for statewide by Gov. Rendell's Transportation Funding and Reform Commission in its 2006 report.

The nearly quarter of a million riders who use Port Authority daily also have stepped up and are paying higher fares and are adjusting to changes in their longstanding commuting habits. We have done what's been asked of us, with the hope that the passage of Act 44 by state lawmakers would resolve our chronic budget crisis. We supported Act 44 and believed it was a step in the right direction.

Our actions have been widely recognized, both in Allegheny County and around the Commonwealth. But Act 44 has not lived up to the intentions of its creators, and we are now faced with a Statewide transportation funding crisis, which is particularly acute here in Allegheny County.

Today, we face a $50.6 million budget deficit and have little more than a month to find solutions. The good news is, it was a $52 million projected deficit last month when I reported to you. Frankly, we wouldn't be in this position today if Act 44 had delivered on its original intent.

State lawmakers did the right thing in 2007 by adopting this law. It was a bold and historic move to carve out a dedicated funding source for transportation. It was intended to be an adequate, reliable, predictable and growing source of funds for the upkeep of our extensive road and bridge network, as well as for the numerous public transit systems that dot the Commonwealth.

The reality is, now three years after its passage, those intentions have not panned out.

  • First, in contrast with other areas of the State which saw significant increases in operating aid when Act 44 passed, Port Authority saw an initial reduction in funding when compared with the prior year.

  • Second, since that time, annual growth in operating aid (intended to be inflationary in nature) has averaged just over ¼ % per year.

  • Third, given the current recession and reliance on Sales Tax proceeds to partially fund the Act, we may actually see an additional reduction in funding next year.

  • Fourth, when coupled with above inflationary trends in major expense line items like healthcare, fuel and (due to the 2007 stock market collapse) pension contributions; all beyond our control; our funding status was already precarious.

  • Finally, and most recently, in April of this year, one of the most crucial underpinnings of the law – the tolling of Interstate 80 – was disapproved by the Federal government. This one decision alone had the effect of reducing the already inadequate transit funding level by 37-1/2%.

Early in my management career, one of my supervisors confronted me with a significant mistake that had been made by one of my staff. In one of those real learning moments that we all encounter from time to time, I tried to defend myself; saying “I wasn’t aware of the error,” and “I wasn’t the one who made the mistake.” My supervisor calmly told me “Steve, it may not be your fault, but it is your problem – fix it!”

Today, I would give that same message to our State Legislators. They didn’t create the current transportation funding crisis, but they are the only people who can fix it.

Governor Rendell and his administration have been very clear in their support for a fix. Now, that leaves only the Legislature to do the job. All we're asking them to do is finish what they started. This was the right move then, and it's the right direction now.

Without a solution, we will be forced to consider various scenarios to balance our budget. None of these fall into the category of “efficiency,” or “right-sizing.” They will all fall into the category of “draconian,” and “damaging.”

We will provide more detail over the next couple months, but they include several alternatives, including eliminating many more routes, cutting weekend and evening service, and increasing fares significantly.

No less important, more crucial “state of good repair” capital projects will be deferred, increasing the likelihood of further service disruptions as we’ve seen over the past month.

Whatever options we choose, it will touch every aspect of our community. It will affect union workers, corporations, schools, universities and medical centers; as well as all corners of Allegheny County. The cuts will impact the shape of Port Authority forever. We'll have no choice but to layoff hundreds of employees and shut down at least one bus division. The Port Authority that serves us today will not be the Port Authority that exists afterward. And I fear that, once it’s gone, it can never come back.

For a City its size, Pittsburgh enjoys one of the best transit systems and highest levels of ridership in the nation. The same can be said for our brothers and sisters in Philadelphia, and in many other smaller communities in the Commonwealth. Whether or not this distinction, and competitive advantage, can continue is now in play at the State level.

These are tough decisions and this is a crucial moment. We wish there was another option or more time to find a solution. We're out of options and out of time.

This Board will act on a budget next month and decide in July about service levels and fares. Public hearings will be scheduled shortly thereafter. Although we recognize the Legislature has many critical problems on their plate, and we truly wish they had more time to consider this one; we’ve simply run out of time. Obviously, we will be communicating all of these details to the public as they develop.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Mon Incline Turns 140!

Tomorrow, May 28, is the Mon Incline's 140th birthday. In honor of this occasion, here are some facts and a look back at the history of this iconic form of transit:
  • The Mon Incline opened to the public on May 28, 1870 and is believed to be the oldest incline still operating in North America.
  • The incline originally cost $50,000 to build.
  • The nearby Duquesne Incline opened in 1877.
  • Port Authority took over Mon Incline operations in 1964 and the incline was declared a historic structure by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation in 1970.
  • The Mon Incline has undergone several renovations and modernizations over the years: the installation of a steel structure in 1882; renovated stations, new cars and track structure in 1982; and the introduction of a computerized operating system in 1994.
  • While Port Authority buses and T see their biggest ridership numbers on weekdays, the Mon Incline is most popular on Saturdays, likely due to the number of people who use it for sightseeing. The incline carries about 2,200 riders each weekday, 3,500 on Saturdays and 1,900 on Sundays.
  • The Mon Incline's track is 635 feet long and its elevation is 369.39 feet.
  • The incline travels at a speed of six miles per hour and carries up to 23 riders in each of its two cars.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mon Incline Expected to Open Monday

The Monongahela Incline is expected to resume normal service Monday morning (May 17) after being shut down for about a week during replacement of its operating cables. The incline will make its first trip Monday at 5:30 a.m.

We shut down the incline on May 7 after routine testing uncovered deterioration within each cable. As a safety precaution, we decided to replace the cables and operate shuttle buses between the upper and lower stations during the work.

We thank riders and tourists for their patience during the work.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Schedules, Maps for June Route Changes

Note: These changes do not include further scheduling adjustments or tweaks to routes that were already changed in April (the G2 or 28X, for example). Any adjustments to those routes will be announced separately prior to June 13.

Changes on the following 26 bus routes will go in effect on Sunday, June 13.

  • 6B Spring Hill
  • 11E Fineview
  • 13G Thompson Run Express
  • 13U North Hills-Oakland Express
  • 16F City View
  • 28K Moon Express
  • 41B Bower Hill
  • 44U Mt. Lebanon-Oakland
  • 46F Baldwin Highlands
  • 46G Elizabeth
  • 51A Arlington Heights
  • 51C Carrick
  • 53F Homestead-Lincoln Place
  • 55M Century III Mall
  • 56B Hazelwood
  • 56C McKeesport-Lincoln Place
  • 67A Monroeville
  • 67F Trafford
  • 67H Squirrel Hill
  • 68D Braddock Hills Express
  • 79D Mount Carmel
  • 86A East Hills
  • 86B Frankstown
  • E Elizabeth Flyer
  • HP Holiday Park Flyer
  • LP Lincoln Park Flyer

Schedules and maps for new routes are now available on our website by clicking here.

Paper schedules will be available at schedule racks within the coming weeks.

The new schedules are loaded into our
Trip Planner so you can plan your new route -- just select a date of June 13 or later to try it. Note: Google Maps will not have the new route information available for trip planning until changes go into effect.

Please note: This list encompasses routes that have not yet been altered per the Transit Development Plan. June will also bring some tweaks to routes that were already changed during our first round in April; we will announce those tweaks in the near future. More route changes will follow in September.

If you have specific TDP-related questions, please use
this form and a member of our staff will contact you. You may also call Customer Service at 412-442-2000 or for TTY 412-231-7007, or try us on Twitter at PGHtransit.

If you leave a question in the comment form on this blog, we will try our best to answer. Please note that a high volume of questions on this blog may make it difficult for us to answer each question individually.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Important Update on the Mon Incline

If you ride the Monongahela Incline, you’re probably aware that it has been out of service since Friday afternoon. Due to the need to replace cables, we are now expecting that it will remain out of service for at least the rest of this week.

On Friday we shut the incline down to conduct an annual test of the incline’s two cables. During the test we discovered they had incurred wear-and-tear to the point that required us to shut the incline down and replace the cables. At no time prior to the shutdown were riders endangered by the condition of these cables – our policy is to replace the cables before any safety issues can develop.

We are replacing the haul cable, which does the work of moving the incline cars up and down the rails, and the safety cable, which acts as a backup to the haul cable. Both are about 800 feet long, 1-1/4 inches thick and made of heavy steel wires twisted together into a rope. Each cable has a carrying capacity of about 80 tons, but the incline only weighs about half of that. While we determined the cables had worn and needed to be replaced, the carrying capacity was still well within safety parameters.

The safety cable last was replaced in 2006 and the haul cable in 2003. We got a lot of use out of both – they just reached the end of their useful life. We anticipated buying new cables in the fiscal year 2011 capital budget – this just came a bit sooner than planned.

Unfortunately, this maintenance work isn’t a quick fix – more cable had to be ordered, and we’re waiting on its delivery. We expect to receive the cable at the end of this week, and installation will follow. At this point we expect the Mon Incline to be back up and running sometime next week. If that changes, we’ll let you know.

During the service outage we’ve been providing shuttle buses between the upper and lower incline stations to minimize disruption to commuters who rely on the Incline. We will continue to attempt to provide bus service to the incline, either in the form of a shuttle bus or by rerouting the 41E Mt. Washington bus route.

We regret that at this time we cannot guarantee availability of bike racks on shuttle buses.

In the event that there is a disruption of shuttle bus service, the 41E can be picked up on its regular route a couple of blocks from the upper incline station at the intersection of Virginia and Shiloh, just a few minutes’ walk from the station. During weekday peak periods the 43E Mt. Washington Express bus can also be picked up at this intersection.

The Duquesne Incline is operating normally. If you have any questions about the Duquesne Incline, please visit or call 412-381-1665.

We apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced as a result of this outage. Please stay tuned to this blog, our Twitter feed, our website and your local media for more updates.