Consolidation of transit systems in southwestern Pa. gains momentum
Western Pennsylvania would be better served by one transit agency than 10, says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Thirty percent of Downtown workers live outside of Allegheny County, while many Allegheny County residents work and shop in Cranberry, Butler County, or Washington County's North and South Strabane, he testified last week before state lawmakers meeting at Station Square.
“It's frustrating when you watch buses come across the (Allegheny) county line and they don't pick up another person as they drive into Downtown using the same route as a Port Authority bus,” he said.
Transit consolidation could save taxpayers millions, said Fitzgerald, a Democrat from Squirrel Hill.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Shaler Republican, thinks the same thing.
Corbett's 2013 budget proposal would provide an extra $1.8 billion a year for transportation statewide, but require transit agencies to complete consolidation studies with neighboring agencies if they want a share of the money. Consolidation could involve combining entire agencies or just sharing purchasing or services.
PennDOT would decide which agencies should partner for studies and would pay for the work. It would slash funding to agencies that don't implement cost-saving recommendations in what PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch describes as a “carrot-and-stick approach.”
Some consolidation efforts are under way. Lackawanna and Luzerne counties in northeastern Pennsylvania expect to save $1.8 million a year by consolidating administration of their medical assistance and shared-ride services. Combining operations of five transit agencies and two county transportation departments in south-central Pennsylvania could net $24 million in savings in seven years, a study completed last fall predicted.
A Corbett-appointed advisory commission predicted consolidations could cut transit costs statewide up to $25 million a year. PennDOT shells out $1.2 billion in transit funding annually. Corbett's plan would increase that by $40 million in the first year and $250 million by the fifth.
“We need a ‘SWEPTA' to reflect how people go to work and live,” Fitzgerald testified last week during the legislative hearing, using an acronym to refer to a hypothetical Southwestern Pennsylvania Transit Authority.
SWEPTA is not a new idea. Then-Allegheny County Controller Dan Onorato promoted consolidation during his first campaign for county executive in 2003, but didn't advance the idea during his two terms in office.
Larry Morris, executive director of the Greensburg-based Westmoreland County Transit Authority, said his agency's express buses to Pittsburgh are usually full by the time they reach Allegheny County on weekday mornings. Stopping to pick up riders in Allegheny County as Fitzgerald suggests would lengthen commute times, defeating the purpose of the express route, Morris said.
“My job is to run the transit system here,” Morris said, declining to predict whether creating a single regional agency would result in savings.
Other local transit leaders were lukewarm, at best, on the SWEPTA idea. They pointed to the complexities of combining agencies with vastly different operations. For example, three of the 10 public transit agencies that operate in the 10-county area employ their own drivers and mechanics, while seven pay private contractors.
“Our budget would only run Port Authority for about a day. Our savings would be minimal at best,” said John H. Paul, executive director of the Butler Transit Authority, which has an annual budget of $1.5 million compared with Port Authority's $372.1 million.
“Somewhere down the line we might get to a SWEPTA, but that's not something that's going to happen overnight. You would be dealing with some very significant, complex issues,” said Marc Roncone, executive director of the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority, based in Charleroi.
Roncone said his agency already works with other agencies to cut costs. It and four other agencies are piggybacking on Port Authority's ConnectCard project, installing electronic fare-collection boxes that will allow riders to move seamlessly between buses from different agencies; management of the program will be consolidated, reducing costs.
Roncone said his agency plans to study a possible combination with Washington's City Transit and the Washington County Transit Authority.
“I think you would see some savings, and I think it could enable us to not only sustain our service, but to grow it,” Roncone said.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Bakery Square town houses plans to go to Pittsburgh city planners
- Four questioned in Glen Hazel shooting of teen
- Fix for issues vowed at Pittsburgh VA
- Leadership rises as issue for Pa. voters in new poll
- Newsmaker: Jay Carson
- Citation of police observer called ‘abuse of power’ by Pittsburgh police
- Pittsburgh region enjoys healthy dose of ‘brain gain’
- Wilkinsburg School District hires embattled Penn Hills business affairs director
- 3 Brentwood council members submit resignation letters
- Newsmaker: Christa Majoras
- Shadyside-based Niche.com mines surveys, data for school ratings