Monday, February 09, 2009

Let them read the web

This really takes the cake...

In the PG last week is a blurb about how the Port Authority is asking folks to review their planned route changes by reading a web page and commenting. No mention at all in that of any alternative means to learn about potential route changes.

Remember that little factoid that everyone knows... that we are an old region. Allegheny County has one of the highest percentages of elderly in the nation. I bet that when it comes to transit ridership we are literally number one by far since the counties in Florida that have high elderly concentrations are populations less likely to need public transit. If you have ever been on a bus anytime between rush hours you will see that most riders are elderly. That and the state pays the Port Authority a big chunk of its revenues each year, and a lot of that is tied to the number of elderly riders they provide service for.

So the Port Authority expects the web to be the means for the public to learn about their route changes? Who are the folks most impacted by route cuts? Those who have cars or the ability to walk additional blocks to a shifted bus stop? Wouldn't be the elderly would it? Changes that may seem minor or 'efficient' to a lot of us are nothing less than everything in the world to the quality of life for folks with limited mobility. That includes the vast bulk of our older generation. Access to a bus stop may be the single most important factor to the quality of life for many local seniors. Anyone think the Port Authority has a lot of incentives to keep the elderly from getting too too upset until it's too late. Probably already is....

I have been contemplating this post long before I saw that blurb in the paper. Some of us know the Port Authority has been planning route changes. As best I can tell there has been virtually no outreach to the core riders the Port Authority, which are indeed the elderly. I have occasionally asked around a bit to folks I know if there has been any material on the process distributed to or any other outreach that they were aware of into senior centers or senior homes which is the normal way to reach that population.. and basically the answer seems to be NO across the board. Or if the Port Authority has attempted such outreach, it must have been horribly ineffective to date. I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they at least tried or that they had a plan to do something in the future, but now the media is pointing toward only a web site with no alternate means of getting this information. It really makes you wonder if they understand how unique Pittsburgh's demographic really is... you can't just go applying methodologies that work elsewhere here and think that counts as being effective here.

The elderly DO read the paper. It may be the only thing keeping newspaper subscriptions from falling even further in town here. If the only thing they are going to learn from reading the newspaper today is a reference to a web site then what is the point? Is there no strategy to engage one of their largest rider populations? the one that will be the most impacted by route and stop changes? Try my little test yourself. Ask someone over 70 in town if they know the Port Authority is even considering moving their bus stop (you don't even need to suggest that some stops might actuallybe eliminated) and see their response.


And not to end on such a sour note. This will deserve a post unto itself once I get a chance to use it myself.. but the most revolutionary change in local transit infomatics may be what wizards at MapHub have just put together. That isn't hyperbole. Read and use They have put in place a text based query system you can use with your cell phone to learn when the next bus is arriving at a particular stop. It's implemented for just a few test stops for now, but this may be the best thing to happen to local public transit since.... well, forever... or at least the biggest change since the introduction of those fare collection machines which was not all that long ago. Seriously.


Blogger joe said...

I did a quick search of the Transit Development Plan "peer review" document available at that link and didn't find any mention of the age distribution of the county's ridership.

I don't know how one begins to quantify it, but what is the value of bus service in helping folks to continue living independently, either by getting out by themselves for appointments, or by making it possible for direct care workers to visit them at home?

It would be interesting to plot the bus routes (existing and proposed) in relation to the various eldercare/disability service providers in the county.

Here are some Google maps of such entities:

Personal care homes/assisted living residences in Allegheny County

Senior centers in Allegheny County

Adult day Service centers in Allegheny County

Nursing homes in Allegheny County

The most interesting one is probably the Adult Day Service Centers, as they are designed to help individuals to live independently (or rather, interdependently) in the community.

And yes, the county really does have 159 personal care homes, 64 nursing homes, 57 senior centers, 31 adult day service centers (4 centers that are both senior centers and adult day service centers), as well as 80 home health agencies, 60+ home care agencies who provide Medicaid Aging Waiver services (personal care), and another 30 or more private duty home care agencies that don't accept public money.

Monday, February 09, 2009 6:54:00 PM  
Blogger Lady Elaine said...

It's my understanding that they will have several rounds of hearings to reach out to those who don't have Internet access to get their input, including the elderly and minorities. It will not only be posted on the net.

Monday, February 09, 2009 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Routeshot appears to be a good idea for buses, but I hope they implement something better for the T. It's been two years since my Pittsburgh Transit post about this and of course nothing has come to pass. See

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 12:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It must make someone feel really good to finally write a screed, a nice long post about something that they "have been contemplating" long before they see a blurb in a local story. So good, in fact, that they don't want to bother checking the facts. No, just open up the spleen and let the bile pour write onto the keyboard. I've read your blog for some time and I find it very interesting that the intellectual rigor that you demand of other people is sorely lacking in your own posts, particularly as they relate to Allegheny County and the Port Authority. If another website posited an entire theory based upon selectively sampled and entirely anecdotal occasional stories, you would rip it to shreds for being lazy, unquantifiable, unreproduceable, lacking in definable standards and generally shoddy. Yet, here you are with your "as best I can tell" and "occasionally asked around" and lo and behold, you have reached a lengthy and incorrect conclusion.

The fact of the matter is that, as a longtime Port Authority rider, there are ads all over the buses providing information, meeting dates, and telephone contact information offering to provide information to customers in non-web form (regular mail). The downtown customer service center where I get my passes has information for review and lots of other information about the route changes. There have been six public meetings about the plan and two bigger public meetings with a couple dozen leaders from PennDOT (the source of the senior citizen money), Access, PIIN, the NAACP, and state and county public services agencies. At the last meeting that I attended in the summer in Bethel Park, we were told that the PAT bus with all of the maps and information onboard had visited more than 25 local neighborhoods, senior centers, etc., and the colleges and that some meetings were organized by local politicians. That number is likely higher now and I assume that PAT has a list of these meetings and should probably toot their own horn about it.

At the end of the day, this will be a big change and I'm sure some people will be upset about it. Nevertheless, it's a shame that before the plan is even announced for public consideration people with a pulpit (like you) have decided to take PAT down a few pegs based upon hypothesis that isn't even true.

You haven't even seen the proposed plan yet, which will be subjected to another round of public meetings and comments, and you've already made up your mind that it is flawed. What is your absurd negative fixation with PAT anyways? Is it because they are actually going to implement a study but places like Pitt keep cranking out unrealistic and ridiculous theoretical projects that everyone tosses aside (City-County consolidation anyone a la Nordenberg? No? How about "Rivers City"? There's an idea that has legs). If that's not it, it must be something. Get over it; PAT's trying to fix their problems, let them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's some of the notes from the meetings. There all on the PAT website for those industrious enough to actuall click through a link.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like Ken Zapinski.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 5:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Port Authority, I like the opening line of the Tribs story, "Ever wonder when that seat or handrail on the Port Authority bus were last cleaned?"

I used to wonder about stuff like that, then I realized that I really didn't want to know.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Well, Ken or not it really does not matter too too much. I actually thought Ken agrees outreach to seniors is an issue that needs to be addressed, but I don’t want to speak for him. He is more than capable of speaking for himself as he does often does.

But thank you for your comments. I am glad, and really quite surprised I have to admit, there are such pro-PAT sentiments among riders. Most on buses just seem pretty angry, especially given how crowded most buses are these days… which is also anecdotal I admit being the situation on the buses I ride.

As for the general state of Port Authority outreach that you think so highly of. I suppose you think PAT’s “rumor of the day” site was legitimate outreach as well and not really generating and amplifying more rumors than it ever cleared up… or even that is was objective? It has been hard to take any of their outreach seriously since they kept that site up. I really am curious what posts that pertain specifically to the county that you say I have been less than rigorous on. I can’t even think what posts on the county I even have other than on assessments which I would be more than happy to debate the details on, ether recent details or details going back 3-4 decades. I try to keep my tomes down to something reasonable and of course I often fail, but I have enough material to write a book on the history of assessments in Allegheny County.. thought a bit about writing one as well as well, but who would read such a book.

Anyway, I did have that post mostly written some time ago when I realized how little people knew of process. Was probably a few months ago and just let it go as I do many posts.. mostly in deference to seeing what else was going to happen. But that news story really jogged the whole issue for me. I’ll ignore the ad hominem bit, I have nothing to do with Rivers city and only offered advice on the city county report. Innumerable reports are generated by Pitt, few have anything to do with me.

I hate to say I don't think your experience mirrors a lot of other folks. You sound like an extremely proactive and engaged PAT rider and I think that’s great… like six sigma proactive which I do applaud. Again, I would suggest informally surveying some elderly in town on what they know of the process and what has been distributed into senior centers. I myself ride the bus each day and do actually try to see what information might be on the overhead 'advertisements' that pertains to any of this (or that would be easy to read by many seniors) and it has not been much in the last year. I believe most senior riders are unaware of the scale of changes being contemplated. I do wish I had more complete survey data to prove that, but will have to rely on what I observe. In fact I would suggest they actually do survey the public to see how effective they have been thus far at outreach and publicize that data. If I have missed that info and it is out there I will gladly apologize.

I actually agree that I have spoken less authoritatively on Port Authority data. With reason unfortunately. For myself, I will state for the record that every request for data I have ever made to the Port Authority has come back with nothing. One time they even told me they had the data I was asking for on the route cuts being debated a couple year ago but that I couldn't get it until the board approved the cuts and the decision was final. Kind of defeats the whole purpose of the public input meetings were supposedly about don't you think. One time they referred me to a printed publication they had and that I could 'retype' the long list of route cuts if I needed it some other form. I eventually stopped trying after wasting a lot of time, they were so uncooperative. So I agree to a degree with the lack of rigor, but it’s hard to do better when the sole source of information is so obstinate. Seriously, the only conclusion I have been able to draw is that they have not been very helpful for serious input.. only what they have to do pro-forma to say they tried. My opinion for sure, but one based on a lot of experience.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 11:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. On the other hand...I'm not sure whether I should be pleased or insulted by Anonymous's comment.

For the record: Anything I post to this blog I'm happy to put my name.

As I've told Chris before, I appreciate his providing a forum for community discussion of various aspects of the ongoing transformation of the Port Authority.

Ken "A PAT rider but not that PAT RIDER" Zapinski

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 3:59:00 PM  

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