Thursday, March 17, 2011

All Hail Lenzner

On March 27, Port Authority of Allegheny County will cut routes, frequencies, buses, and drivers from their payroll in an effort to survive.

Private bus company Lenzner Coach Lines is taking up the slack for one route. They are paying Port Authority for the ability to offer reduced service. There will be no free senior and student rides. There will be no discounted disability service. There will only be 4 roundtrips per week day with no weekend trips. You will have to reserve an entire month's worth of trips to step on the bus. If Port Authority offered that service for the bargain-basement price of $3.25 each way, there would be riots in the street. But Lenzner will be charging $5.00 each way and make a profit. Yes, Port Authority, people would rather pay higher fares than not take the bus.

Of course, the Port Authority brought in only $93 Million in operating revenue (i.e. fares) in 2010. They had $397 Million in expenses. Employee wages and salaries alone accounted for $143 Million. Yes, current fares don't even cover current employee wages. That doesn't include employee benefits (like the costly pension system) which were an additional $126 Million in 2010. These are astounding numbers which actually tell you that fares mean very little in the grand scheme of things.

The state helped out significantly by dropping $184 Million in the bucket last year. The county offered a relatively piddling $27 Million on top of that. With the cost of pensions continuing to explode (a $13 Million increase just last year), reading these numbers seems pretty bleak. Port Authority is not sustainable even if it could triple its fares and not lose any riders. State government led by Governor Corbett would rather just shut their eyes, plug their ears, and ignore the problem.

It's easy to blame Port Authority's runaway expenses. But if you think Port Authority's expenses are ridiculous, keep this in mind:
PennDOT alone has a budget of $3.8 Billion, which is completely independent from the Turnpike budget, and the thousands of Pennsylvania county municipality road budgets.

So in short, Port Authority needs to make these cuts. There is no knight in shining armor stepping in to pony up 10% more in funding every year just to cover increased pension obligations. And in 10 years, I won't be too surprised to learn that Lenzner is operating more and more of our bus lines and light rail. We've brought this on ourselves by blaming Port Authority and shutting our eyes. I just feel bad for Grandma.

My advice to Lenzner? Don't start offering any of those pesky pensions.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The City That Banned Gas Drilling

Anecdotal impressions of Pittsburgh may be changing, and we have City Council to thank for that.

I was in Buffalo, New York over the weekend where most people I talked to hadn't been to Pittsburgh yet and didn't seem to have many impressions of this city 3 1/2 hours South.

Yet shopping in a local fashion store, I heard something new to me. "You're the city that banned gas drilling." Well, yeah, back in November, the city of Pittsburgh did ban gas drilling within the city limits, dismissed as a token effort by most around these parts. But up in Buffalo, one business proprietor says that inspired other cities to realize they could do the same thing. Buffalo enacted their ban last month after Pittsburgh paved the way.

Now that's a legacy we can be proud of.