Thursday, February 5, 2009

Good Stewardship

I like reading other blogs, it keeps me from having to be original (way too much pressure). I was reading a post about transit profitability here on a great site called "The Transport Politic". The article focuses on the eternal argument between (in my mind) pro transit people (like me) and anti-transit people (Like the Trib).

At the risk of over-simplifying things, generally there are two camps, the group that thinks transit should be funded by the public, and those who think that it should not. Those that think transit should not be funded by the public want transit agencies to "pull their own weight", and attempt operate at a profit, with little or no help from the public. If they fail, so be it. That way, we can use public money on interstate after interstate, and give suburban soccer moms and their Hummer H2's easier mobility through massive urban sprawl.

For what it's worth, here's my take on the argument. Mass transit is not, and should not be treated as a for profit enterprise. Mass transit is a public service, with emphasis on the public. In my mind a public service's main effort should be on supplying whatever service it is that they provide. A for-profit company worries about one thing: profitability(duh). If said company is not profitable, it will do anything, and everything in its power to become profitable, even if it means removing a service from an area entirely, laying off any amount of people and/or closing facilities. In my mind, this could create a conflict of interest, if a for-profit company is running transit, they may cut an "unprofitable service", even though that service may still be a viable public service. This defeats the purpose of providing a public service.

And now, for a BIG CAVEAT....

I learned a great lesson in the Army that I think really relates well to this argument. I had a commander that always used to tell us,
"... just because we're not trying to make money here doesn't mean we shouldn't be good stewards of the taxpayers money"
That statement right there is where transit agencies and governments fail big time! (Can You say Mr. Steelerstahl's little jaunt to the Post Gazette Pavilion with a police SUV and 50 of his best buddies) I think a major source of the argument about making transit agencies for profit companies stems from the lack of stewardship of public money.

While I wouldn't go so far as to suggest the Port Authority be run for profit by a private enterprise, I would agree with those that say that major reform is needed in the Port Authority. They have definitely embraced not operating as a for profit business with open arms, but have not exactly been good stewards of the tax-payers money. All I have to say are "North Shore Connector, highest personnel costs in the country" and you should get the picture.

I do think they are making attempts. I think CEO Steve Bland has the right idea. They have negotiated a less destructive contract with the ATU 85 (although more remains to be done in this area), and they have begun the Connect '09 Initiative in order to refine their route structure which is horribly out of date. These are the types of reforms that should be done. They should not however, throw the Port Authority and the people that rely on its services out the door for the sake of making a buck.

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