Regional transit? Careful what you wish for
Combining the public transit operations of 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties into an integrated regional transit system could pose a policy dilemma.
On the one hand, the idea has merit. Consolidation might produce economies of scale. Bear in mind, however, that the Port Authority of Allegheny County accounts for more than 90 percent of the combined bus passengers and operating expenses of all the public transit agencies in the region.
On the other hand, there are serious red flags:
• Would there be a uniform wage-and-benefit structure? The danger is that the wages and benefits of the Port Authority are much higher than those of the transit workers in the surrounding counties. Thus, consolidation could cause a sharp increase in employment and operating costs in areas now served by smaller systems.
• Will collective bargaining also be consolidated and, if so, will the largest union — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 — emerge as the unit? That would saddle the regional agency with onerous work rules and raise spending levels beyond the taxpayers' ability to support them.
• There could be a loss of local control by the counties surrounding Pittsburgh.
• What is the motivation for the merger? Is it to gain the positive operational advantages or is it to spread Allegheny County's transit problems beyond its borders?
For this discussion to move forward, the commonwealth should adopt conditions for financial support:
• The governor and the Legislature must have representation on the board of the regional system (and the Port Authority).
• For all new employees, benefit agreements must be changed from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans.
• Upon retirement, employee health benefits must not extend beyond five years or beyond when the retiree becomes eligible for Medicare, whichever occurs sooner.
• Public transit workers may not strike — just as firefighters and police are not allowed to strike.
• Retirees may not vote on union leadership.
• The new regional transit agency must obtain competitive bids for a designated percentage of all of its bus operations using the following guidelines — 15 percent of operations to begin, then 50 percent of operations beginning in the seventh year. (Not included — service already outsourced by regional transit agencies.) The requirement would fall heaviest on the Port Authority; labor unions shall have the right to bid.
If consolidation does not occur, adopting the conditions outlined here would go a long way toward curing the ills of the Port Authority, where most of the region's transit problems are found. These same ills are almost certainly the principal reason consolidation is being considered.
Jim Roddey, a former Port Authority board chairman, was Allegheny County's first elected chief executive. Jake Haulk is president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
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.
- Undersized Beachum quietly excels at 1 of game’s pivotal positions
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu, Taylor unlikely to play, Harrison ‘ready’
- Michigan State defensive coordinator a Pitt coaching candidate
- Pitt: Football coach hire comes 1st, athletic director 2nd
- Pirates sign Corey Hart to 1-year deal
- Penguins’ defensive depth proves valuable
- Pittsburgh adjusting to new bicycle lane, ‘stop boxes’
- Hotel building boom sweeps Pittsburgh region
- Penguins notebook: Kunitz ‘really close’ to return
- Police gather in Ligonier for Perryopolis officer’s funeral
- Giant Eagle Inc. appears to have settled ‘fuelperks!’ lawsuit