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The transit challenge

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Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A PennDOT study of potential consolidation and privatization benefits for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, mandated by state Act 72, must point the way toward reducing taxpayers' mass-transit burden.

The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy notes PennDOT can draw on its Bureau of Public Transportation's prior reports on regional and statewide transit issues. And though PennDOT said in its 2011 annual report that “not exploring consolidation leaves ... transit providers on a path of continued service cuts, deterioration, unsustainable financial conditions, and impending crisis,” its 2009 annual report was worrisomely skeptical of privatization: “Because transit is not profitable, no competition exists.”

The institute says “contracting with a private vendor to provide service on specified routes” would enable “better efficiencies and lower costs through outsourcing.” It suggests a gradual process of freezing hiring, then allowing natural attrition to shrink employee ranks until there's “a meaningfully large service block” that can be put up for cost-saving bids. “Over time the process could lead to 30 percent or more of the bus service being supplied by private firms,” the institute says.

The key question, according to the institute, is how to reduce per-passenger Port Authority costs — long higher than other transit providers'. Taxpayers — who subsidize transit — must demand that the study deliver workable, concrete answers that take both consolidation and privatization seriously.

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