Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Rumors on Wheels

So here is a Port Authority "Rumor of the Day" that they put online last week:

"Rumor: Port Authority management makes too much money.

Truth: The average administrative employee earns $44,385.19, while the average Port Authority operator earns $48,653.74 a year."

What's wrong with that? Anyone notice the conflation? The words administrative and management are not synonyms in this context. I am pretty sure that when someone discusses management salaries in any industry the reasonable interpretation excludes most workers that are categorized as 'administrative'. Cute misdirection though. If you want a more thorough look at how lucrative management compensation is compared to workers you can read what the state auditor general said. I guess Jack Wagner didn't realize he was reporting all those rumors as fact.

I have no problem with the Port Authority putting up information like this. All sides should be heard from, but what I take issue with is the labeling . The casual reader may think that 'Rumor' site is really an objective attempt to clear up some misunderstandings out there. Yet it looks to me like an excuse to propound just one side of what will be some contentious public debates pretty soon. In a sense, the site is creating or at least amplifying more rumors than it is clearing up. Things may have seemed quiet on this front, but once state factfinding end this is again going to hit the news cycle and potentially remain there for some time.

Soo... if the Port Authority does not append some disclaimer to their posts on that site explaining to the reader that it represent management's viewpoint only, I may need to start up an independent "Fact of the Day" web site to respond to their postings. Just in case someone thinks I am not serious, I think I have enough fodder: I try to compile the most important documents relevant to transit policy locally in my Pittsburgh Transit Policy Bibliography. Which if anyone has scans, links or otherwise has suggestions for specific policy documents out there that should be included in that, just let me know. I've tried to focus it on the major policy research affecting transit in the region. (which means I don't try to cover the MFE if for no other reason than it is such a big topic unto itself... I'll wait until someone writes a dissertation on the MFE and let them do the work).

Also, some of the posts here that have looked at transit are itemized below:

  • Higher Gas Prices = Longer Weekend?
  • Traffic Jams and More
  • Transit Metrics Again and Again
  • Commuting Across the Nation
  • Rethinking Price Elasticity and Curibita
  • Transit Usage by State House District
  • Transit Visions
  • Inconvenient Elasticities and Forgotten Externalities
  • A Fare Too Far
  • you think parking is expensive now
  • Bus economics and the (proposed) demise of the 28X Airport Flyer
  • Is public transit usage in Allegheny County high or low?
  • confusing counterarguments
  • false choices and McAnalysis
  • Transit Disconnect
  • Permanent Bus Stops
  • Bus Fares
  • Public Transit Utilization
  • transportation factoid: kids on the bus
  • Bus Stops
  • public transit beyond the beltway orange belt
  • Transportation Tuesday
  • Photo Contest

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Actually, virtually none of those benefits outlined by the Auditor General are still in effect for management employees, having been reformed by the Port Authority board last year.

    Management and non-union employees no longer receive healthcare benefits after they retire, they are paying 3% of their salary for healthcare, and senior managers have gone through a minimum of two years of salary freezes.

    None of those reforms apply to the union workers whose salary and benefits make up about two-thirds of the Port Authority's budget. And that's at the heart of the ongoing labor dispute.

    I appreciate you keeping up the focus on transit. It's an absolutely essential part of the region's transportation network.

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008 5:05:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    But they were there for a long time? I am curious, were all those time buybacks taken back retroactively?

    But that is a side point at best. The point here is that administrative and management are not the same and the comparison in the web site is misleading. I see you use another taxonomy: union and non-union which may better describe those numbers, but is not what the web site chose to use. Words matter.

    That being said, I feel for you Ken. It's going to be a hard year.

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008 5:27:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Its hard to feel too bad for somebody who pays only 3% of their salary for health care. Particularly since they don't seem to care if you can get into and out of Oakland.

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008 9:41:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I don't know about the pensions, but for for the union/non-union language, it is a bit of a hair-split. Port Authority's non-union employees total about 6% of all their employees. Nearly all of that 6% are in management or professional positions (director, manager, supervisor, lawyers, financial analysts, etc.). Union and non-union are therefore really interchangeable with management and non-management. From what I understand, the lower-level, typical non-union positions that you would see in most companies are actually in the ATU union at the port authority (for example, secretaries, receptionists, call center employees, mail room, claims adjusters, etc. are all in the ATU). Are there a couple of accountants that are not "management"? I'm sure there are, but a handful of positions doesn't invalidate the comparison. I like the whole rumor of the day feature. Think of how interesting it would be if the City or the URA had a website that put out ANY information about their rumors.

    I think that Ken Zapinsky has repeatedly pointed out that port authority actually has some supervisors in the same union as the bus drivers. That must be a disaster.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 12:10:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...


    Thanks for pointing out that I wasn't very clear in my first comment.

    The management/non-union employees pay 3% of their salaries for healthcare annually.

    The union workers pay only 1% of their base salary -- not including OT -- for their health coverage. Their retirees get healthcover for life. And the 1% contribution is new for the contract that took effect in December 2005. Prior to that, the union workers paid nothing for health care coverage.

    Most of the rest of their healthcare premiums is covered by tax dollars from county and state taxpayers.

    Chris -- Thanks for the kind wishes.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 9:21:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Wow. And here I thought getting a good education was the key to a good job and comfortable retirement.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 9:34:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    1% of base salary for health care? Even for a family? If they do strike, I'm going to try to get in as a scab.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 10:31:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I heard about a very interesting site regarding public transportation:

    It seems to not be getting much traction and is probably too convoluted, and on top of that even if something cohesive was put together it would likely still flop. But still, I like the idea.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 10:40:00 AM  
    Blogger Crystal Eastman said...

    guess what folks,
    if more of us were in unions, we'd be paying less for our healthcare too.

    and we should thank labor unions for keeping costs to workers (including any of you posters who work for a living) down this low for this long.

    don't believe zapinski, onorato and others when they target union wages as being the problem with port authority. the problem is the lack, for years and years of a dedicated state funding stream, and the sad absence of the political will to have an efficient transit system in our city.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 8:18:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Rachel, where do you think a "dedicated state funding stream" is going to come from expect the taxpayers. Their cheap health care is comes out of our pockets.
    First, Murphy buys-off one set of unions and my property taxes and parking taxes go through the roof to pay for that mistake. Then, I try to save a little money by taking the bus and now I'm a hostage for the next union use its muscle to extort the taxpayers. I didn't have a problem with unions before I came to Pittsburgh (I'm a former AFSMCE member). And, yes, local politicians are hardly blameless. I voted against all of them who had any opposition. But to pretend local unions aren't part of the problem is absurd.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 9:16:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Let's be clear: The "dedicated state funding" thing is and always will be a red herring. Until 2005, public transit was funded by PTAF in 1997, before that it was funded by LURTA (which was eliminated with electricity deregulation--it didn't make sense then, either). Public transit always had dedicated funding. The only difference with Act 44 is that the new funding will grow over time without any new supplemental funding from the state.

    Now, local match is a whole other ballgame. Over the last 3 years, the county has given less than $15 million to fund public transit. Total. That is a deficit of $60 million. That means that the Port Authority has been short ALOT of $$$$$ through no fault of its own or the state. That is, believe it or not, less of a problem than the union issue.

    Now, on to the union retirement healthcare costs. I find it impossible to believe that I should thank public sector unions for anything. Whatever the net value of their "help" has been on healthcare costs has been more than offset by the increased taxes I've paid at the school, municipal, state and federal level for that "help". Aside from that, their "help" has resulted in the city having an unfunded pension liability of $1.4 billion and the Port Authority's at $700 million. So, that "help" just at the local level is going to cost every man, woman and child in the county $1000 apiece in today's dollars. That's really, really helpful.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 11:08:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    Something I may address in a future post, but if you are going to throw out liability numbers like that it is crucial to distinguish what is from pensions and what is from health and other benefits. Also to be clear about what are unfunded vs. total liabilities for each. One of the big problems I see in how this debate has begun is the confusion over crises induced by ubiquitous rising health care costs and not necessarily wages or even pensions in themselves.

    not knowing the actual number, but is $1000 high? What is the factoid you hear about the each individual GM car having a couple thousand dollars of its price going for health care alone, let alone pension and other related benefits. As is true for a lot of local government entities, all these OPEB related costs are exaggerated here because the growth hasn't been here resulting in a bigger burden falling on smaller populations than are sharing the costs in other parts of the country. That is really one of the core issues here, but you would never know it.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008 11:47:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Chris, I always suspected that you had an very informed and intelligent following and this thread has confirmed it.

    Rachel C., I appreciate your point of view on this re: state funding. For too long, the Port Authority received much of its state funding via a line-item appropriation from the General Assembly during the state's annual budget process. As a result, in many years, the Port Authority wouldn't know how much revenue it would receive for the year until after it approved its own budget. It made common-sense planning impossible and allowed the union to legitimately argue that more money could come from Harrisburg to fund any contract demands.

    That changed last year with the passage of Act 44 which set up a real, dedicated funding stream for PA's mass transit systems, dedicated a percentage of the state's sales tax. We now have a pretty good idea how much money the Port Authority will receive from the state next year and the year after that and so on.

    So it's easy to calculate the tradeoff between levels of service and the cost of the union demands. The size of the pie is known; how it's divided is what the fight is about.

    And the simple fact is, the more money that goes into the union contract (wages and benefits), the fewer drivers the Port Authority will be able to afford and the less bus and rail service the region will see.

    Taxpayers are already on the hook for more than $200 million a year (state and local share). The only question is whether we want that investment to go into bus and rail service, or union benefits.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 9:24:00 AM  
    Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

    I'm surprised this hasn't been discussed explicitly yet this round:

    Friday, August 08, 2008 11:33:00 AM  
    Blogger EdHeath said...

    So management has made changes, relatively recently and perhaps not enough, but they have reduced their benefits (including retiree benefits) and increased their contributions. Now it is apparently labor's turn, and fair enough. Labor has a very good deal now. I would agree the job they do is tough, but to take a cold, hard economic look at it, would competent employees be willing to do the same job at 10% less pay, while also contributing a larger fraction of their pay into both healthcare and retirement? I suspect the answer is yes. The county can not actually fire all the union members to find out, but hopefully the fact finding thingie will at least mention that.

    Let’s note that Dan Onorato has with-held the proceeds of the drink tax from the Port Authority until their union negotiations produces a contract he approves of. In some circles this would be called blackmail, and probably ought to be illegal. In any event, it is contributing to the accusations that the drink tax was never going to be used for PAT, that it was always a way to cover an overextended budget and controversial property tax system.

    I don’t know the history of transit funding that well. I do know that at one point the legislature voted to give PAT some amount (say 100 million) and then for some ten years did not adjust the amount for inflation or anything. When the tolling of I-80 was put into place (at least in a legal sense), part of that was supposed to be for transit. But the legislature thought the local match should increase by a couple of million. Well, the County was already close to a deficit budget, so it went to the legislature for the authority to tax something else. It was the State Senate that limited the County to a drink tax and car rental fee. Onorato decided to use the drink tax as a dedicated source of County funding for PAT, so as some people have noted, the County got a 20 to 25 million dollar windfall in its property taxes (the part of the property taxes that used to be used for funding PAT). Of course, the entire drink tax issue has been twisted and confused by the various proponents and opponents.

    The 800 pound, ignored gorilla in the room is diesel prices. *Other* mass transit systems are having to cut back on routes and service, and raise fares because of skyrocketing diesel. The Port Authority barely acknowledges there might be a problem. Instead, we are told the big problem, maybe the only problem, is the unions. This level of deceit is infuriating. I certainly do not want to see the State have the authority to appoint some number of members to the Port Authority’s board. But how can we argue that local control is even working, much less better. We need lower fares and more routes with more frequent buses. We will probably need to ask for federal funding for that. But we will be lucky if PAT even survives the next few years.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 12:47:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Re: Bram's comment:

    Possibly because the kinds of abuses outlined in the article have already been eliminated by Steve Bland and the board, and in fact, were already on the chopping block before the article ran.

    Check out:

    But, as Chris pointed out in his first comment, there wasn't any attempt to apply those changes retroactively, except to Skoutelas.

    No doubt the Port Authority has been poorly run and poorly managed over the years. Since Steve Bland has come on board to clean up the mess, the public is doing its part through higher fares and reduction in services. Management and non-union employees have seen wage freezes and benefit cuts. Extravagant and unwarranted compensation programs have been eliminated. And the Port Authority is in the midst of its first-ever system redesign to redesign the network to move more people at less expense.

    No one is singling out the union as the only problem. But the problems within the Port Authority board's sole discretion to solve have been identified and are being addressed. It's the 2/3 of the budget (or roughly $230 million) that the union has a say over that is the crux of the problem now.

    And to Ed's great point about diesel prices -- no matter what the price of diesel fuel, every dollar that's used to pay for a 46-year-old union retiree's healthcare is a dollar that can't be used to pay for fuel to put a bus in service.

    Chris, thanks for the forum.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 2:12:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    Given that transit of any kind is labor intensive I am not quite sure what this statement means:

    The only question is whether we want that investment to go into bus and rail service, or union benefits.

    Since I infer the objection would be to salary as well as benefits, is the implied premise that state money would go into capital expenditures?

    The thing about how Port Authority has been managed in the past is worth a mention. It's always a bit of a cop out to blame predecesors. The funny thing is that Bill Millar was well regarded nationally and went on to be the president of the American Public Transportation Association. Is Skoutelas the fall guy here? Maybe we should all go blame Roddey and Millar for building the T (ok, plans for that were before them I think), but if the bottom line here is costs then shouldn't the confernece be arguing to shut down the T and replace it with bus lines. Which then ties back to my original question of where the state funding ought to be 'invested'.


    this is all good, and at least civil, discourse. So thanks everyone. Am not sure this is an optimal place for this long term if only becasue it may get lost on my blog. Something to think about. But let's see where it leads.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 2:37:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    and I'd like to Ken some credit for engaging. Despite his roles in all of this, I'm not quite sure it's fair to have him to fell he needs to respond to everything.. but since I don't think Steve B. is about to enter into Burghosphere, it's a valuable perspective. So we should give him credit for being willing to engage, as we all know there are plenty of folks who probably think blogs are not the place for legitimate debate.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 2:50:00 PM  
    Blogger Crystal Eastman said...

    Mr. Zapinski,
    It's a little disingenous to say that the union has "say" or control over that part of the budget when from their account (Pres. Pat McMahon in the paper, on the radio etc.), there's no real discussion being had between PAT management and the union about cost-savings beyond the very specific issues of their pensions and healthcare. Please appreciate what kind of position that puts McMahon in with his members.

    I'd like to see some evidence that the Port Authority is working with the union on the other important economic and service-related issues-- such as what service to cut or not cut etc. Who knows that system better than the operators and the first line supervisors? They should be enlisted to help make the system better-- not villainized for being greedy and part of the problem.

    When the Allegheny Conf. has transit meetings and forums, what role do you give the union in the discussions?

    Rachel C.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 2:50:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Public sector unions are just another government contractor and about as likely to be greedy as your average defense contractor. Except that nobody has ever written a folk song about defense contractors, so they can't get a law to shield them from competition.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 4:09:00 PM  
    Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

    I do (or should) give Mr. Zapinski loads of credit for engaging out here, and if the situation in my comment was truly out of date and inoperative, I apologize and I'm glad he corrected it. Though I note the press release he references states Mr. Bland's intention to "recommend" those changes only.

    I yield the remainder of my time to Rachel C.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 4:29:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    61C, here I come.

    Friday, August 08, 2008 4:59:00 PM  
    Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

    Ken, your comments are so one-sided it sickens me. start telling the truth of all of the over indulging benefits that the management and some current and former board members of the port authority reaped over the years and we the people will be picking up the tab for many, many years. People like you are part of the problem with the current negotiations not the solution. Go carry Jake Haulk's purse for him, so you all can get in line and pray for privatization to happen. GOOD LUCK!

    Saturday, August 09, 2008 1:13:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    With respect to the funded/unfunded questions about the state of Port Authority's pensions, I think that this is a fair summary from the budget information on the Port Authority's website. The ATU actually has a website, but it hasn't been updated since 2005 so it is of little use.

    The ATU pension is nearly 100% funded and the management pension is somewhere around 85%. The management funding shortfall is due to the indefensible DROP pension given away to Skoutelas and his minions. In order to keep the pensions funded at these levels (which is in fact pretty high compared to most pensions these days), the Port Authority makes annual contributions in the $10 million range (mostly to the ATU pension which is about 5 times larger).

    For the retiree healthcare, which is required by the pension but not funded by the pension, the shortfall over the next 25 years is $700 million in TODAY's $$$$$. This is the accounting standard issue that was reported in the PBT today. Other than the city, nobody's future retiree healthcare number is even close to Port Authority's. Port Authority doesn't fund that number, and it means that under the pay-as-you-go system that they follow, they have to pay $35million this year just for RETIREE healthcare. That is 10% of its budget. That number is projected to be more than 20% of its budget in less than 10 years.

    Fuel costs are projected to be at $30 million this year at $4/gallon. Assuming that number stays at $4 (I know, I know, it probably won't), what this means for riders is that between fuel and retiree healthcare (NOT pension), Port Authority is going to be CUTTING 35% to 40% OF ITS SERVICE TO FUND ITS RETIREE, NOT EMPLOYEE, BUT RETIREE, BENEFITS IF NOTHING CHANGES. This doesn't even account for salaries, spark plugs, etc.

    This type of arrangement can't last. The ATU and management are going to be sacrificing service and current employment of union members for today's retirees. I for one want MORE service, not less. I want more neighborhood service and direct service to Oakland. If in 10 years, I have to drive to a busway to catch 1 of the 100 buses to downtown, Pittsburgh will be in big trouble.

    As for Zapinski, I find his comments to be perfectly fair based on the numbers that are available. No other political leader is weighing in on this issue, so his comments are more than welcome. At least he's putting his viewpoint out there. Where is the ATU leaders on this? Let them speak.

    And by the way, Cowboy Neal, Port Authority board members are unpaid volunteers and not paid in any way. If you know different, please share. Otherwise, please think, think, think, type your answer, and delete it. We'll all be better off for it.

    Saturday, August 09, 2008 10:08:00 AM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    Now we are getting somewhere. If I were the ATU I start by highlighting that one point that their pension plan is indeed one of the best funded large pension systems in the state, let alone the region. Most people think its opposite. I challenge the Port authority to clear up that RUMOR on their web page. Anyone think they will, or that anyone Downtown will start to let the public in on that. Ha.

    As for the Port Authority contributions into the pension system, how much have those contributions been over the last 10-20 years is the key question. But it is a crime that we are talking about Port Authority pension issues at all when the incomparably worse situation facing the city that almost never gets talked about.

    Honestly, I would prefer this not to be about any individual. Ken is representing a view that will be there whether he voices it or not. I think the only way some of these things will be resolved is if they are talked about openly.

    Saturday, August 09, 2008 11:02:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Cowboy speaks of 'over indulging benefits' (sic) as if they were limited to management. If I retired at 55, my health insurance until I reached Medicare eligibility would easily cost over $10,000 a year and would have very high co-pays.

    Saturday, August 09, 2008 11:11:00 AM  
    Blogger Crystal Eastman said...

    chris, re: your pension contribution question (caveat-- i don't fully understand this stuff):

    - i remember hearing in 07, when the first round of cuts happened that the port authority has only very recently been paying into the union members' pension fund.

    is cowboy neal cassady an ATU member? (i'm just guessing based on your tone :) ) maybe he or someone can enlighten us.

    Local 85, please update your website!

    Saturday, August 09, 2008 12:26:00 PM  
    Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

    MS i have no idea where you get your info but you are not correct ATU's pension is funded to the tune of 111% and do your homework on why and how much the port authority contributes to it. zero contributions from 1987 till 2006 they always budgeted for a contribution but they were never forced to make it so they spent it elsewhere and it finally caught up to them, ad-hocks were paid off causing them to have to contribute in large numbers which will end in 2009. market value 670,000,000.00!!!!! not bad. and the management plan is nowhere close to 85% i'll get the exact number. Think! Think! Think! P.S. Diesel engines don't have spark plugs.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 12:11:00 AM  
    Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

    MH hopefully you live past the life expectancy of a port authority bus driver, which is age 59!!! tell Ken Z. to post that fact.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 12:15:00 AM  
    Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

    MS Neil Holmes never needed paid. he made so much money from this authority through the back door and so do the other members. Henry Nutbrown was a thief also. Jim Burn saw the corruption going on with that "rubber stamp" board and did the smart thing and got the hell out Ona-rat-o sits back and does nothing.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 12:23:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    c. briem, the Port Authority didn't make any contributions to either plan from 1997 through 2003 due to higher than expected (read, returns. Every other year, before and after, they conributed some amount for both pensions. Again, though, this is not about the pension, it's the retiree healthcare that is killing them. Pensions are a good thing for employers and employees. Paying for healthcare until someone reaches medicare eligibility, though, is just plain crazy.

    Pension funding for a government agency raises an interesting question, however, which is "Would you rather have Port Authority fund a pension system in years where no contribution is required (it's 100% or higher funded), or would you rather have more service? I'd rather have more service, and I think anybody's honest answer to that question enlightens the current PA/ATU debate.

    For any ATU members out there, the PG just reported that you can show up late or "shark" (which is just a great term) 15 times before you get disciplined. Is that true? And how many sick/vacation days does a 5-7 year employed driver get?


    Sunday, August 10, 2008 6:53:00 AM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    It is certainly about the pensions as well as health care. When the Port Authority or others throw out comparisions of how their health care costs are higher than some other systems (the key factoid I think some like to use) but ignore the fact that they really had relatively low (or as you point out almost none for many years) pension contributions then what does that mean? if they had been putting in a normal level of contributions toward pensions and applying that to a health care fund, the situation now might be very very different. Or maybe the workers contributions could have been put into a health care fund, to leave the Port Authority to make the level of contibutions into the pension systme that they ought to have planned for in the past. Seems to me the drivers are being punished for having what I mentioned happens to be one of the best funded pension systems in the state. Yet if you read the news nobody ever mentions that. All you get is what I have seen in comments above is people conflating the issues and trying to make it seem the port authority is just like where the city is, which is with regards to pensions when in fact they are the two very extremes in Pennsylvania.

    Seriosly, compare that to the state of the city's pensions system which gets both state aide and city contributions and still is only falling behind year after year. Those years that were good for all investments barely kept the system treading water.

    ... ok. I see 'coyboy' covered some of that already. Honestly, I would like to see if that life expectancy of 59 statement can be backed up. If true (and I certainly hope its hyperbole), I bet the GASB 45 health care cost projection if overstated by an awful lot. Would make this all a very different little debate. Even if only partially true that would be a bigger story than any of this.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 9:28:00 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I would certainly need some significant proof before I was convinced that the life expectancy for a group is 1) American and 2) employed has such a low life expectancy. Maybe Cowboy gave us the average age of death for those who do die before they retire? Just a guess.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 11:01:00 AM  
    Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

    You know it's kind of funny when the management of the transit system screws up it's union members get to be the fall guys.Workers in all cases have as much to lose if the system fails as mgmt. does. So I would suggest that if union members of PAT are the problem then they could also be the solution by appointing some of it's members to the board of directors or would the greedy corporate types feel they were losing out on too much of the publics goodwill in the form of their kickbacks

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 12:54:00 PM  
    Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

    fOR mr. Zapinski:All due respect Sir, just wondering in the 44 years of existence of the Port Authority how many dissenting votes have their been for their Board of Directors. My guess is a big fat ZERO. Even the Soviet Union had at least 1, of course they had the GULAG what do we in Allegheny County have in it's stead.Let's face facts the populace of SW PA get fed the corporate dribble that is fed them by the Allegheny Conference and the Duquesne Club. You can frame issues however that you wish but the true discussion we should be having is whether Healthcare is a right or A privilege. This is what is strangling our transit system and the people of Allegheny County, runaway costs of healthcare.What is the true agenda that the Allegheny Conference has, is it a race to the bottom? Wouldn't companies come racing here to do business if our healthcare costs were in line with other industrialized countries? If we address healthcare costs all these other ancilliary issues come in line.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 4:49:00 PM  
    Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

    TO mh: if you say your healthcare costs if you were to retire at age 55 were to be at least 10,000 a year then I would say to you, that just like the taxes that i'm sure your kind complain about When does it all end in expenses to common people. Should we put every one who reaches age 65 out on an iceberg to die. Of course that's assuming any icebergs are left after global climate change. Maybe the Allegheny Confrence could address that issue after they kill off another good paying job

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 6:49:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Son of something or other: How about, instead of icebergs, just working longer in recognition of the fact that people live longer. Most people manage to make it to 65 working.

    And yes, I do complain a great deal about taxes. I've lived in several states now, and everywhere else I've lived has had lower taxes and better public services. And don't get me started on the PLCB.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 7:09:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Or at least recognizing that the ability to retire at 55 with health insurance is a benefit that is worth close to $100,000 dollars so maybe you should kick in a bit for it.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 7:13:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    c. briem,
    I agree with your point about the non-contribution during offyears, but assuming that Port Authority was contributing a historic amount (say $15 million per year) during those six years, the GASB 45 number would still be over $500 million. And nearly all current retirees only pay for cost increases in healthcare for co-pays, etc. under the current plans, they still pay 0% towards the premiums. There is still a huge hole in the pension/retiree healthcare numbers over there.

    And excuse the wonkiness, but Port Authority's retiree healthcare costs are probably so high that the IRS actually forbids paying for post-retirement healthcare out of the pension at the amount that the Port Authority pays. There is a cap on pension payments for non-cash payment ("other post-retirement benefits"), and I think that because of this cap if they paid healthcare out of the plans, they would be significantly underfunded and in line iwht the city's problems. I think fundamentally it gets you either way ... they still need $500 million.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 7:40:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    as does the city, maybe a bit less but pretty close and that is on top of the pension liability in itself which is growing and eventually going to be unfunded completely at the rate they are going. (not 111% funded or whatever it is for the port authority drivers these days) It's just such a different situation and I think there is an attempt to muddle the issues.

    It would be worth refining that number. Given how well funded the pension is, then I wonder if the relatively low contributions go back more than just those 6 years... But it's all a notional concept anyway right, since almost all governments abdicated putting money aside for OPEB.

    While I don't quite believe the age 59 expectancy myself (that would be a huge story unto itself), it does pose a bigger questions. The GASB 45 report was probably put out there by management and there are a lot of assumptions that go into those things. I wonder if the ATU has their own or agrees with the GASB report. The city for example for decades continued to use early 80's mortality tables in their pension reports which had the effect of lowering the top line liability (and thus their required minimum contribution into the fund). There are a lot of debatable things that go into actuarial reports like that, even more so for OPEB calculations vice pension numbers. Given that the last GASB 45 report is not from that long ago, and knowing these labor negotiations were going to happen, it raises the question of whether that amount is really that high. PAT would have some strong incentives to have that OPEB liability look as big as possible.

    Which all highlights how this all really is really a sideshow to the larger issue of how fast health care costs have been going up. Port Authority, like the city which now has many more retirees than active employees because of local demographics, is just a leading edge of that bigger problem.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 8:04:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    sorry.. showing my age, or how long I have been riding buses at least. I realize it's no longer in use but PAT=Port Authority Transit.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 8:11:00 PM  
    Blogger Schultz said...

    I heard about a very interesting site regarding public transportation: It seems to not be getting much traction and is probably too convoluted, and on top of that even if something cohesive was put together it would likely still flop.

    FYI regarding the cityLive!/PopCity transportation initiative - an increasing number of individuals are contributing to what is called the Pittsburgh Regional Integrated Transporation (PRIT) plan at the pghwiki website mentioned by the anonymous commenter. We've made significant progress in only 15 or so days. The initiative will run for another 75 days and then the plan will be edited, finalized, and then presented to the public officials. There is traction and progress, and while the focus seems to be geared towards bicycle and light rail transportation enhancements I encourage all of you to check it out and add some of your ideas for the region's future transit system.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 8:48:00 PM  
    Blogger Schultz said...

    if the bottom line here is costs then shouldn't the conference be arguing to shut down the T and replace it with bus lines.

    Shutting down the T would be a tragic mistake. If the problem is fuel costs then we want more T usage and less bus lines, right? I know the cost of the downtown to Oakland T extension is now probably double what it would have been ten years ago, but with fuel prices unlikely to see sub $3/gallon ever again we need to start inching towards more light rail lines and even some commuter rail lines. More people are taking the T these days - the full T cars and full parking lots here in the South Hill are proof, and I think more people would take the T if went to Oakland.

    With regards to the high cost of operating the T - what would be the cost of not running the T in terms of increased congestion and worse air quality? If they need to reduce the operating cost of the T the PA could cut some of the off peak service since following rush hour the trains regularly run with near empty cars.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 9:01:00 PM  
    Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

    After ratification of the 2005 contract all PAT retirees pay 1% of their wages toward their healthcare premiums.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 9:05:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    Chris, you don't understand why I threw that out there at all. I have shown how T coverage correlates highly with transit usage so I do think it has great benefits. But nontheless, cost per rider or per mile is twice that of buses to the Port Authority, and choosing to ignore that fact but trying to place all the Port Authority's budget problems on retiree health care costs is a bit superficial.

    Realize also that more people are taking the buses as well, it has nothing to do with how relatively efficient one mode is over the other if both are getting more riders. Its just plain expensive to maintain the T.

    That being said, I believe there is an intention on the parts of some to go after T costs in subsequent rounds of cost cutting. It all depends on how successful they are at this round to see how far that can be pushed most likely. The only way I could imagine going after T costs would be to cut service, but I am open to there being other possiblities.

    and fyi.. port authority pays wholesale fuel prices I think free of most taxes and under longer term contracts.... So they have not been paying $3/gal, nor will they even for their next contract coming up but I forget the number they expect to pay.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 9:17:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    let me correct myself... Port Authorty diesel contract is expected to be $4.27/gal for the coming year. Below retail, but well over $3.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008 10:09:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    test only. Will delete if this goes through.


    Monday, August 11, 2008 1:51:00 PM  
    Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

    To mh: this is all about healthcare no reasonable person could be expected to fund a retirement at the rate of increases the healthcare industry gets 87% in the last decade alone. Also very few people retire as drivers by age 55 although a % do. To receive a full pension you must work there at least 25 yrs. Nobody is asking for sympathy in this matter however I do sense some envy on your part. You should go apply, be prepared to work weekends and all holidays 14 hr.shifts watch out for kooks and criminals. You'll want to make sure you are drug and alchohol free. Don't expect to see your kids little league games or a late night out with friends. After about 15 years of this life of luxury you'll probably start to get weekends off and some holidays but by then it's a good chance that your back gave out from sitting in a seat your whole life your kidney's probably won't function as well from having to hold you know what, numerous people will look up to you all day long telling ya your #1. don't expect any flex schedules like leaving work early the disciplinary code (contrary to popular opinion) will get you. if you are lucky and still found time to keep yourself in shape so your blood sugar didn't rise and contract diabetes or other healthcare related issues they'll still let you drive so you can keep your job. I hope you aren't the type who likes to nod off though because unlike most desk jobs where erasers will take care of your mistakes this job is pretty unforgiving in that way

    Monday, August 11, 2008 2:23:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Sorry, I was busy for a while and couldn't participate in the conversation the last few days.

    I genuinely appreciate the respectful tone that the commentators have adopted here, especially the two ATU participants. My family lost a job because of a strike and I know how difficult it can be to negotiate a union contract with a business that you thought would be there forever but instead is fighting for its life.

    Chris raised a couple of points I will try to get to later, especially about the value of the T to the entire system. But I wanted to clarify one statement that Cowboy made yesterday:

    Only union employees who retired after Feb. 1, 2006, pay 1% of their final base wage toward healthcare coverage. Most of the 3,000-plus retirees covered under the program do not pay anything for their healthcare coverage. A minor point, but an important one when talking about the Port Authority's overall healthcare liability.

    Also, to address A Son's comment re: retirement age. Roughly half the Port Authority's retirees are under age 65 and that group averages 58 years old. My data is taken from the Port Authority's 2007 GASB 45 report, so the current numbers may be somewhat different.

    Monday, August 11, 2008 2:47:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Son of GG:

    Before I sign-up, please define 'alcohol free.' If it means free of alcohol-related offenses and able to show up on work days without a detectable hang-over, then score one for me. If it is stricter than that, I may have trouble. I'll be fine on the drugs though.

    Monday, August 11, 2008 4:50:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    No need to seek help from GG, looks like the Port Authority is currently advertising positions as bus operators. You could apply now. I presume they are only advertsing active job availabilities, but can't speak for certain. If they need people now, even after the route downsizing last year then in normal years I wonder what their recruitment looks like in normal years.

    That page also lists a need for lawyers with labor negiotating and collective bargaining experience.

    Monday, August 11, 2008 5:02:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    With respect to SonGG's working conditions. I think that he needs to realize that there are alot of difficult jobs out there that are just as high stress, tough customers, etc. as being a bus driver. The difference is that none of those jobs provide lifetime healthcare benefits paid for by the taxpayers. If you work as a nurse you have the same type of problems (and, of course, you must also stay drug-free, which is kind of amusingly listed by SonGG as a "drawback" to being a bus driver). Correct me if I'm wrong, but the job listing referred to by C. Briem merely requires a GED, CDL and a clean record. Atom-splitting not required. That seems like a pretty good gig for someone without any other education.

    The point, most importantly, is that customers any other business, not taxpayers, have to bear that burden. I know that I'm kind of a transit geek, but I'd rather have the North Shore Connector over SonGG getting retiree healthcare any day. At least I'll be able to ride and enjoy it.

    Monday, August 11, 2008 9:45:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    not sure the point over the median age fact. at the risk of losing people's interest I may need to poke at the GASB 45 report a bit. I'm sure that is worth an esoteric blog post someday.

    with an open intention of giving Ken an out, I think this thread may be nearing exhaustion. Maybe I will come up with a T post at a later time to air those issues. But if he or someone feels a need to add something on that that's fine.

    Not to get the last word, but this one thought is rattling around my head. The thing I wonder about the job listing is why it is there at all. Why is there an open advertisement for a position that is supposedly so over-compensated. Ought not to be, again especially given the route cutbacks very recently. Maybe there are just a very few jobs open and they do get a lot of applicants per open position. I would love to know the number of fully qualified applicants they have been getting per job opening over the last few years.

    Monday, August 11, 2008 10:12:00 PM  
    Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

    if anyone is interested check out the "Real Pittsburgh Transit Info" blog under my profile.

    Monday, August 11, 2008 11:26:00 PM  
    Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

    Ken there are a total of 2717 retirees not 3000 plus and not that i'm trying to split hairs but it's comments like that, that are code for your agenda. That total number of 2717 is also jaded because their are retirees who retired under the mgmt pension plan but also started their career as ATU.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 11:52:00 AM  
    Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

    hope everyone interested in healthcare costs got to see pg. a-12 of tues. aug.12 PGazette. In case you haven't, the headline reads another 10% jump seen in costs for 2009 for ratepayers. well mh let's see 10% of the 100,000 you had saved 48 hrs. ago would be um um (pardon me while I split this atom) another $ 10,000. Since this doesn't seem to be a concern for your minions perhaps you could let's us know how we could get a rate of return on our investments averaging around 10% of our $ 100,000 so we don't have to make room on that iceburg for people who don't have the knowlege of your investment capabilities.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 12:16:00 PM  
    Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

    actually djm you may not get to enjoy that ride on the connector as you wish if healthcare is taken away from me I could easily contract something very communicable like let's say TB or maybe Leprosy can come back with a bang. But i'm sure things like that only happen to the other guy unless you're the other guy.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 12:32:00 PM  
    Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

    Kenny Z. it's nice of you to ackknowlege the two ATU participant's although I'm not sure of it's sincerity. To clarify a point for you though it's not that any of us thought that this job would last forever what we didn't count on though was a mentality that greed would be a good thing. You see if you grew up when I did (WWll gen parents) you were taught to share and that someone who was to grab everything for themselves was stingy. But around 1980 greed became a good thing neo-liberalism came into vogue those who worked their whole lives and saw their pensions stolen by a corporation the thinking became well that's the breaks. Well we're here to tell you that greed is not good that we're all in this together and guess what we pay TAXES too. It's quite obvious that the agenda being pulled here is a wave of the magic wand. Just like a magician waves his wand it's the other hand you have to watch to see what's being pulled. The PANACEA of privatization is being hailed as to what will save our transit. The simple truth as you well know is that it could never become privately owned with out large infusion of capital courtesy of guess who? the TAXPAYER. WOW what a deal for the private owner of that company, let us all know who has the political pull so we can cash in too. Best wishes.FROM THE HOMESTEAD INSTITUTE

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 1:22:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    Folks.. I think this has been great and clearly highlights a need for a forum where all sides can really hash things like this out. However I am concerned that only a few folks will really continue to read what is already becoming buried on my blog. Maybe we will have to think of a better venue for this than traditional blogs, I dunno. That has been hashed out for years in various forms I know.

    So fyi I have sent Ken and a few others notes just saying that I will post this type of final comment so he does not feel a need to continue replying to every point. Especially if we get into pure political philosphy, I think there will never be agreement anyway.

    I won't turn off comments here, but maybe we can restart this on more specific points, I have a few transit related blog posts in mind.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2:03:00 PM  
    Blogger C. Briem said...

    Postscript for those looking to talk more on this:

    Looks like the Progress Pittsburgh site is trying to spark more transit discussion

    A new commenter here: Cowboy Neal Cassady, looks like he has the ATU perspective. (still a mystery to me why the ATU does not have a bigger PR presence going into major labor negotiations, especially given how many resources the other side has out there at this point).

    and nothing there yet for this, but I would not be surprised if the site eventually has some section devoted to public comments in some form.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008 7:14:00 AM  

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