Friday, June 26, 2009

The Fares, They Keep A'risin!

Another round of fare increases will be set for January 1, 2010. Fare increases seem like a common occurrence in Allegheny County, and the fact that there is another one was not all that surprising to me. I actually remained calm for the first few lines of the article.

Then I saw why the budget had increased significantly enough to warrant a fare hike despite the fact that the TDP is expected to be implemented (beginning in late 2009) to increase efficiency, and service while reducing waste.

It turns out that health costs are going up again and the PAAC will need $4 million to make up for the shortfall. Concessions were made by the ATU 85 during the last contract negotiations, and it was enough to stave off disaster but not enough to avert a fare increase. I can't help but be frustrated by this. I don't want to go on an anti-Union rant, as they negotiated to get what the got. Some of the blame lies on the shoulders of the Port Authority reps who, for years agreed to terms that helped to bring Pittsburgh some of the highest labor costs in the country among transit authorities.

Good stewardship not only means running with some degree of efficiency so as to not waste money; it also means having the foresight and planning ability to negotiate contracts that will not be destructive to your budget and ability to provide a public service.


nathan said...

This is insane. There are so many cities with much better service -- more frequent, more routes, LRT -- that are drastically cheaper. Austin is $0.75 and I never wait more than 20 minutes for a bus, and that's on a slow route on a slow day.

Part of being a business is knowing that raising your prices too much will actually lower your income, and I'm certain more people would ride the bus if they didn't have to give up their lunch in order to do it.

It should be cheaper to ride the bus than a car, but for $2.25 you can buy a gallon of gas which equals 10 - 30 miles in a car. I revise that, it should be much cheaper to ride the bus, since it's not as convenient, often not as fast, and definitely not as comfortable.

Foot, meet bullet.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, an anti-union rant would be fine with me, considering the behavior of the Amal. Transit Union during the whole "negotiations" debacle last fall. Those weren't negotiations. That was just seeing which group blinked first, or, which group could strong-arm the other into doing what it wanted.

I agree with nathan completely. If I actually had to pay to ride the bus (I have my Pitt ID to get me around), I'd just say "forget it." Would probably get me biking around more.

illyrias said...

Nathan, one of the reasons that people in Pittsburgh ride the bus so much is that parking is so expensive. If you can even find parking, you're spending at least $10 to park Downtown or in Oakland, which added with the cost of gas makes the bus seem much more reasonable.

In truth, I'm not bothered too much about the quarter if I also get improved service (through the transit09 initiative) and smart cards in the same time frame.

Though I'm agreed with busway blogger that it's frustrating that the cost is largely associated with legacy costs. But that's the story of the country right now.

Lastly, Austin may have cheap buses but most big cities do not. I can only imagine that the city of Austin is much more willing to heavily subsidize bus-riders than Pittsburgh and also that they're a newer system and do not have the legacy costs.

Paz said...

Illyrias has it right. A $.25 increase in a fare will cause a lot of grumbling, but very, very few people are going to be priced out by a fare increase. The cost of riding a bus to downtown has to go up substantially to come anywhere close to the cost of parking.

You can yell at legacy costs until your face turns blue, but they're still going to be there when you are done.

As for the Austin comparison, it's apples to oranges. The University of Texas has the largest shuttle bus system in the country, extending well into the city and easing the burden on the local system. Pitt and CMU on the other hand have shuttles that run almost exclusively in Oakland, and therefore don't really do much to ease ridership on PAT.

If you really want to be angry about the fact that Port Authority has to rase fares, take it up with the state or the feds. Complain about the disparity between highway and transit funding. Be upset at the culture of sprawl that stretches our resources and means that we have to run a bus route out to McDonald instead of more service in Wilkinsburg. Bemoan the fact that most grant money can only be used for capital, not opperating costs. Or do your part and drink more in Allegheny County to raise some revenues.

East Busway Blogger said...

I am happy to say I do my part to fund the drink tax, maybe more than my fair share... (It should also be at 10%)

All your points are good ones, I totally agree that funding is skewed towards highways and transit/passanger rail get the short end of the stick. I did not mention those reasons because they are not (directly) why the Port Authority is raising fares.

I don't believe funding issues absolve the Port Authority from making efforts to run an efficient operation, in this case by lowering labor costs.

I would argue that of all the factors which influence the Port Authority's budget (funding, labor costs etc.) collective barganing is the factor the Port Authority has most control over and that's why it's worth talking about.

Additionally, the posibility exists that these healthcare costs will continue to increase over the next 3.5 years until the next contract negotiations begin. (Since healthcare costs increased 75% from 2002 to 2009, it's not a bold prediction to make)

Does that mean that a fare increase will be instituted every year for the next four years? It may or may not, but again that will be tied to whether or not healthcare costs continue to increase. A lone increase of .$25 is one thing. A $.25 (or greater) increase every year for the next three years is significant.

The bottom line is right now the Port Authority can't do a whole lot about the way State and Federal funding is set up. Is it unfair, absolutely, but that does not exuse the Port Authority from doing whatever it can to attempt to be more efficient, especially with labor costs.*

The Port Authority is trying to streamline its operations to reduce waste and increase efficiency (TDP), it only makes sense to extend that to labor costs as well as actual maintenance/operational costs.

*I'm not saying that the members of ATU 85 should be the only ones subject to labor cost trimming, management also only pays 3% of their own health costs, for example.

AMD said...

Actually, as the last labor negotiations demonstrated, management has NO control over labor costs through collective bargaining. That power resides with Mr. Onorato. Port Authority management was prepared to take a strike/shutdown/whatever to hack labor costs, but the county executive (and future candidate with a union base) blinked. Management eliminated retiree healthcare for all nonunion employees (which includes alot of people making less than $40k per year) a couple years ago to "lead by example" in union negotiations. The problem is that Onorato wouldn't or couldn't lead negotiations anywhere.

And FYI, nonunion employees pay 3% of their salary towards healthcare. Not alot, but coupled with eliminating retiree healthcare, it is some serious money.

neroden@gmail said...

Health costs are a total nightmare for every company and every public agency in the US.

We need health care reform. Ideally, single-payer, alternatively, a federal public option which businesses can buy into. Something which is big and powerful, to cut the cost of health coverage. Medicare and the VA both have far lower overhead than private insurance, and I'm sure the PA is stuck buying private insurance.....