Monday, October 27, 2008

transit failure in Pittsburgh

This I know may be too wonkish to take hold in public, but if you want to see the ultimate proof of the failure of public transit in the region, see this report out recently that really looks at the impact of gas prices on driving behavior across regions.

Take a look at the graphic there and how Pittsburgh is one of only 3 regions with a negative correlation between gas prices and congestion. It looks like we have the single most negative correlation. What it means... we are just about the only region where increasing gas prices have not lowered the amount of driving here unlike virtually every other region in the country. Think about that.


Anonymous johnny g said...

Come on, Chris! I've got to call BS on this one. Talk about Cherry Picking statistics--that looks like a statistically insignificant difference to me. Especially when you take the substantial decrease in routes into account.

Then there's the fact that the study appears to measure "congestion". Congestion around here is more due to topography, tunnels, bridges, and outdated traffic design (can you say Route 28 from Old Allegheny to Washington's Landing) than anything else.

Finally, there's this piece from the text, which seems to counter your assertion:

"The largest and most congested U.S. cities did not respond the same to changing gas prices. Fuel prices had significantly higher influence on traffic in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Las Vegas than, surprisingly, in areas with heavy public transportation infrastructure including New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago".

So having a "heavy public infastructure" didn't make a difference, either.

Monday, October 27, 2008 6:32:00 PM  
Anonymous RoboticGhost said...

I have to agree with johnny g here. If you look at the top transit-use cities in 2006 (as a percentage of workers using transit) most of them haven't experienced the kinds of up tick in transit use seen in places like Denver and so on where transit use was lower by the same metric in the first place.

Pittsburgh has weird transit needs. Dense workplace zones and sprawly housing tucked away in zillions of wee nooks. The system we have is old and in need of an overhaul. Curious to see what Connect 09 is really going to look like.

Monday, October 27, 2008 8:42:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

From my experience, there isn't room on the bus if you wanted to switch to taking the bus. I'm able to get on, but in doing so, somebody else from a few stops down the line is on the curb.

Monday, October 27, 2008 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous AMD said...

To mh's point, I think that the real transit failure is the Port Authority's elimination of routes. Everyone that has heard horror stories from their co-workers about overcrowding on buses and getting passed up because of it will stick to driving. The fact of the matter is that, other than the T, there is no consistent public transportation in Pittsburgh. Without that, you will never be able to crack that certain percentage of car drivers, no matter how high the price of gas.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 7:38:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

and the point is that the (efficient I know the folks Downtown call it) money spent on the T makes it that reliable. Costs per passenger for the T are far far above that for bus travelers. Ansd that is just operating costs, forget the huge capital investment that was spent to build it.

It takes money and investment to make transit reliable, but draconian route cuts which result unsuprisingly with overcrowding, lower usage and all the other things. Ironically, if the Port Authority shuts down it will be because of the costs of the T as much as anything. Some of the city routes come closest to breaking even if not running a small profit once you take into account all the revenue they are responsible for bringing in (including per rider subsidies for elderly for example). Too many folks want to have their cake and eat it too saying that they support transit because they support light rail, but also support cutting costs which either means minimal service for most (The real goal of many) or much much higher subsidies than we have now.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 7:53:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

..or going to an all bus routing, I meant to add on that last sentence.

but on the earlier points on the intepretation of the INRIX pre-report. its a good point on statistical significance. Someting to keep in mind, if the media took into account what data actually had statistical significance, a large proprotion of all data reported in the news would be written off by that argument. Take the news today, and this time last month, over movement up and then down in the regional unemployment rate. Neither number was outside a confidence range on the previous month. So multiple news stories are really based on nothing more than noise. Neither employment, nor the unemployment rate, have likely changed month over month as much as the news stories would imply.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 8:21:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

In theory, I agree that we need higher subsidies for transit. However, PAT has a history of burning money on nice office space, overly generous retirement packages (especially for past management), and trying to play railroad baron. I think their past behavior has killed any chance at improvement for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous AMD said...

I think that the real problem with the T is that it is not being used as it should. It should be the main line for all bus service coming into town south of the Mon. Everything should be fed into that from Routes 19, 88 and 51. If that were to occur, it would make all of the bus feeder routes more efficient and predictable, because they would be kept out of the downtown loop where they get bogged down in the tunnel/bridge snafus. Also, the T's cost recovery would go through the roof, because it would always be carrying max loads coming into town. If they knew how to use it, the T could be a huge investment that actually pays off rather than the white elephant it currently is.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 8:31:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I really do wish that argument, or something similar, was true. That argument implies there is unused capacity that can be met by the T with no marginal cost. In some cases that may be true.. but here?

Problem is that T is pretty crowded now right, at least during peak hours. So any additional service will have to be met with additional capacity and the operating cost of the cars is what is so costly and inherently a money loser. let alone the potential cost of buying more cars (no, we are not going to be putting trolley cars back on the line). If it's losing money despite being packed now, running more crowded cars could just add additional deficits not decrease them. It gets to my core point, if you really boil this all down to a cost metric as many want to do, you will get to some choices that most don't want to make. I am not quite sure we are at that point yet, but there is an argument I am waiting for someone to make in public to dig up the T and replace it with much more cost effective busway. and no, that isn't either my idea, nor my preference but it is just a bit pie in the skyish to think this is a routing issue except at the margins. not that there are not a lot of routing issues in and of themselve.

thats my short answer. the long answer gets to the the condundrum we (the region that is, or the port authority in particular) is in because of the hgh concentration of jobs downtown and oakland and the high usage of public transit (each of which some consider good things). Given that, the inefficiency (i.e. the costs) in service provision is hard to get around if providing more service means supporting more cars that are virtually empty or unused most hours of the day. Add it all up and you really can't get around the fact that more T riders will wind up costing you more in the end.

all that said, a better answer is possible if the Port Authority spent any effort putting useful infomration online (say about ridership and capacity) instead of their silly "rumor of the day" site which is still up and running and I am sure costing money. I bet it would be cheaper to put up useful info, but nobody seems to care that they waste precious resources on such nonsense.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 9:02:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

The only way the 61c can get any more 'efficient' is if they started stacking the passengers. But, at least I'll soon have another way to get to the North Shore on the two or three occasions a year when I go there. PAT is just another example of how the East End gets most of the bills and little of the services.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 1:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, on a note related to your post, what happened with both Ken Zapinski and the ATU members' blogs? Have you heard anything/have any insight? It's like they both shut down about a month ago and nothing was heard from since. Seeing as the contract imposition was likely an Allegheny Conference favorite, I think that it is interesting that Zapinski has been completely MIA on Port Authority for more than a month now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 1:27:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I was wondering a bit on that, I really don't know. Haven't talked to him. I am sure a) its been busy on transit and air issues of late and b) whether this is a conscious decision on his part... all the PR efforts must have been geared toward 'encouraging' a settlement of some kind. So once the factfinders report was rejected this all entered a new phase where the PR strategies are less clear.. at least to me. This whole coerced contract move just can't be good from a PR standpoint and more trying to placate other constituencies... or something, its kind of bizarre to me. My guess was that the legalities were not on their side.. and the Trib story today would seem to support that pretty clearly. If they lose some legal ruling on this, is not PAT in a worse situation than if they had not tried such a stunt? I don't get it myself.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 8:53:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of things not heard, I've been looking, but I haven't seen anything on what Onorato says either. He's the man holding the metaphorical gun.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10:09:00 PM  
Anonymous AMD said...

Not to be too naive, but if Ken Z's blog was just a PR strategy, it was a disappointment. Judging from the number of comments that all of your transit posts generate, I think that there is a great interest in the transit issues in pittsburgh today. The only problem is that there is no one laying them out in any kind of detail (other than you--and at that, only on Tuesdays ha, ha).

Thursday, October 30, 2008 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

One thing using transit in Pittsburgh has taught me: Always have a back-up plan. I'm slowly creeping to the top of the Soldiers and Sailors waitlist.

Thursday, October 30, 2008 2:01:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I am sure the blog was but one small piece of a PR strategy.. most likely just an ad hoc addition to all the machinations Downtown. I think we can rest assured he is busy at innumerable things related to all of this.

on back-up plans.... maybe a Vespa could help?

Thursday, October 30, 2008 2:05:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

I was thinking of the Vespa option. A garage near me has one for sale that I see every morning. Then I remember just how uncoordinated I am.

Friday, October 31, 2008 8:58:00 AM  

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