Tuesday, February 22, 2011

March 27 Service Changes & Potential Alternatives via TransitGuru

Port Authority recently released changes to the routes scheduled for March 27, 2011. While Port Authority did their best to minimize damage, these changes are a net 15% reduction in service hours from current service and some areas do have major reductions or route eliminations. This post will summarize the changes and show alternatives where applicable. While it may be more difficult, I believe many alternatives are valid alternatives that would be doable for a majority of people affected by the reductions. Nonetheless, this situation is not ideal and you should contact your legislators and governor. The idea of the Transit Development Plan (TDP) was to match ridership demand with existing service hours. While nearly all routes will assume TDP route numbers and names, this round of service changes is not the best way to serve the region due to the reduced service levels due to reduced funding. Port Authority is discussing with elected officials and hopes this would be a temporary measure until dedicated, growing, and sustainable funding is secure. I encourage you to do the same and express your concerns. Be specific and explain why you need your bus route, evening or weekend service and that you support a sustainable, growing, and predicable funding stream for Port Authority.

This list will be a route by route summary of what will be happening regarding the March service changes. Italic text shows an alternative means to access an area where a route has been discontinued or reduced. It will also be noted if any of the alternative transportation options are not open to the public and only serves a segment of riders (such as employees, etc.). The reason I wanted to write this is to not only help riders to find alternatives to getting to locations where service is impacted, but also to encourage support for our transit system among our choice riders, despite service reductions due to the transit funding crisis. Hopefully as people are aware of the importance of our transit system, more will want increased funding so that Port Authority (and other transit agencies in the state) can reverse these cuts and even plan for expansion beyond the full Transit Development Plan.

Read the details here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Four must-read blog posts about transit

One month and a few days before the projected 15% transit service cuts on March 27th – one organization that does not get much love from riders nowadays is the local ATU 85. ACTC member Stu Strickland explains on his blog “Why there is no love for ATU 85”.

Also from Stu’s blog a post written  a while ago but very actual:

And nowadays he is far from being alone. Michigan University’s Susan Zielinski was recently quoted on twitter as stating that :  “having to own 5 cars is so last millennium!”.  A study quoted by the Infrastructurist indicates that:

This is why, last but not least I’d like to point out  a post by Graham Brownstein  “Top 10 Reasons to Invest in Tansit”  ( via  @TRanspo_Issues on twitter.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pittsburgh Transit: Headed Where?/ February Updates

The bus schedules effective March 27th as a result of a 15% cut in service are now posted on the Port Authority's Website: March  27 Service Changes.

Monday, February 14th, President Obama released a new six-year transportation plan [PDF] . One of the highlights of this new plan is a 127% increase for transit funding that aims to reduce the gap between the percentage of funds going for highway and road development, 80% now, a meager 20% for transit. Under the newly proposed plan highways will only receive 74% of funds.

Meantime transit agencies across the country struggle to find the funding resources that will allow them to survive during the next fiscal year. And this is no news for Port Authority riders who are facing the loss of more than one sixth of the service come March. As a matter of fact, Pittsburghers rallied the day after President Obama’s release of the new transportation plan to protest service cuts.

Photo Credit: Lauren Daley

Since transit is an essential feature in the economic development of 21st century urban centers (and this is a topic we had covered here), members of the Allegheny County Transit Council became involved in several projects aimed at not only preserving but improving transit service for Pittsburgh and surrounding urban areas.

Real-Time Bus Schedules:
Real-Time Bus Schedules use data provided by local governments and transit agencies to keep riders informed of delays, detours, and traffic and trip connections. ACTC members Ana Bayne and Michael Sypolt took part in a live chat session where guest Nick Grossman from Open Plans discussed the benefits of real-time bus schedules and the success of the project among MTA riders. Several ACTC members will meet with Mr. Grossman and other developers to discuss real-time schedule related technology during the March East TranspoCamp unconference.

On the upside, before the whole GPS issue is clarified, CMU’s transportation project team Traffic 21 is in the last stages of launching a smart phone app that provides real time information to riders by using crowdsourcing, i.e., data collected from riders. Thanks to ACTC member Noelle Badertscher we will be able to return with more details on the app as soon as March. Until then you can check the Traffic 21 website for updates.

Soon transit riders from Pittsburgh will know whatever their bus is late or not or if they should take an early bus because of bad weather or traffic conditions.


ACTC members are working on proposals for funding resources with several other community oriented non-profits. Also, by the end of February, a comprehensive map that provides information on service cuts for each electoral district will be available on: http://www.publictransitguide.info/

The map allows riders to compare the effect of service cuts on their own electoral district and take the matter into their own hands by contacting their local representative.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Riding transit with children and having fun...

If we would try to debunk transit related myths the one myth we would deal often when parents are involved is that transit and kids are definitely not a match. Because…
Why? Because it is not safe, buses stink and you may expose your children to unwanted social influences… Or simply because children and transit it isn’t fun …

Michael Sypolt however, disagrees:

“Yesterday, I decided to take my five year old twin girls out to Phipps via
transit. Looking at the title, you might say, how can a day be "beautiful" when
trying to take five year old girls on mass transit. Even more interestingly, I
took them out alone while my wife was having some much needed time away from the children. The day was really enjoyable, for both Dad and the children.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

@PGHtransit –how social media can change your transit experience

I wanted for some time now to write a few words about my experience with @PGHtansit , Port Authority’s tweep [1]. But, as there were more important transit issues such as the TDP changes, service cuts or the funding crisis, I kept on postponing it.   And I postponed it until…I got to read an article about The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority  and how transit providers shall not to use social media. And I realized that I can write a blog post from which WMATA can actually learn – not from me, but from PATs tweep.
So what does @PGHtransit do to make my transit experience better?
·         Acknowledges my questions: even when it does not have an answer, it still tries to work with me on either clarifying the issue or finding a way to help me figure out a solution. When I asked for sidewalks, I was explained why the Port Authority is not able to help me with sidewalk paving and also I was told what authority I may want to contact.
·         Courtesy: even stupid questions deserve an answer.
·         It is effectively helpful: I asked @PGHtransit why the new route 48 did not stop at a previous 51A stop. I was explained how the TDP impacted not only routes but also stops and why the Port Authority is behind with changing stop signs.  I pointed out to @PGHtransit how the old sign got both a new resident and I confused. And if someone like me who rode in the local transit network for several years is expected to know how to keep track of stop changes, for new residents and visitors it is more difficult to figure it out. As a result – the sign was changed.
And the reason why @PGHtransit was able to effectively help –
·         It connects with the riders and other tweeps: One sad fact is that many customer service departments and social media initiatives for public agencies such as WMATA and PAT are disconnected from the rider’s realities. The cause may be that good customer service is related to creating customer value and loyalty and agencies such as WMATA and PAT thought that customer value and loyalty was not an issue. Or the cause may be that riders are assumed to be somewhat stupid –after all they do not drive a car. Or…but this are only assumptions, the real issues beyond the lack of customer service quality are issues for WMATA and PAT and not for me. I can only note the difference among the bus stop related experience I mentioned above and the one I had several months after I moved to the US. I called the phone customer service number that time to ask about a bus stop that appeared on schedules and Google map but could not be found as I walked across the sidewalk. I was told with a condescending tone that there is a bus sign to indicate the bus stop –‘in this country we have those blue signs with the white writing etc.’ I had no success in convincing her that there is no bus sign so either the schedule is wrong or they need to get a bus sign up, she treated me as I had no idea what I was talking about tho I was sitting there looking for an inexistent bus stop. It did not cross that lady’s mind, or perhaps she was not trained to signal to another department that a rider had noted a discrepancy between the printed schedule and the situation in the street. But fortunately there it was social media, twitter and @PGHtransit .
So I do not have to call. I just tweet because:
·         1. I get an answer to the best of its knowledge
·         2. I get someone actually asking other departments for an answer when the answer can be found in another department.
·         3. I get an explanation on why my issue cannot be solved by PAT,  e.g. sidewalks.
·         4. I am given enough credit to be trusted that I provide information about the street, route, bus or bus stop that is as accurate as my own experience makes it. So if I tweet that I do not see the sign or I see a wrong one I am not told that I am perhaps temporarily blind because some paperwork tells us that the right sign is there.

This is why I thank @PGHtransit and because today is February 14 I’ll send it some sort of a  Valentine[2].
What about you? Do you follow @PGHtransit ? What do you think about it?

[1] Here  tweep is used for an individual’s or agency’s persona on twitter. I do not know the person beyond @PGHtransit tweets this is why she/he is called “tweep” and “it”. But I hope to know it one day…
[2] Besides the jewelry advertising and the cards my children give to their teachers and friends I am not sure if it is proper to send a valentine to a tweep, but since it is February 14th

Thursday, February 3, 2011

From a Sept. 2008 email: Privatization is coming

I came across this email I sent to someone on ACTC on September 18, 2008. With trivial modifications, I share it with the world, as it contains several still salient points.

Re: Mustio/Turzai on transit costs

How to pronounce Mark Mustio's name: Like "musty odor" without the final "der" sound. Weird, but it works.

Mike Turzai, who's my State Rep, represents Bradford Woods, but the district includes McCandless. In fact, his office is in McCandless, barely a mile from my house. It's right next door to Northland Library, an easy walk from an 11C ride (assuming you can GET to an 11C, which takes an 11D or 500 ride during the day), or a LONG walk from a 12A, about a mile and a quarter along Cumberland Road, headed west from McKnight. Hillvue Lane is the road going up into the back entrance of Northland, a block south of Cumberland. CCAC North is another quarter mile south on Perry Highway.

The two of them are cooking up a plan to de-monopolize transit in Allegheny County. As you described it, you're right, routes like the 51C, the EBA, the 61C, probably the 13A, would be kept, since ridership is high. Cross towns and lesser routes simply won't be kept, which will strand a bunch of people. Routes like the 6C do OK in ridership, but don't pack the buses, and so do not make much money. 11C the same. It's been cut way back since I moved out here.

What these guys don't realize is that, unlike what they're saying, Port Authority's spending is NOT out of control. Well, let me clarify that. What costs they CAN control are NOT out of control. Costs they CANNOT control ARE out of control: Fuel. Health care. Past commitments to future pension contributions. Those concepts do not make for good headlines, but they are reality. Those headlines especially do not sell to the Trib's/KQV's fan base.

Of course, what I've been saying (and saying and saying and getting tired of saying but I gotta keep saying it) is two things. First, that if you can get 50,000 warm bodies to buy fare and ride the system every day, who are not doing that now, the spending deficits go away. Of course some costs will have to go up as a result of putting more buses out there to meet demand, but that will actually make the system easier to use since transfers will be shorter and headways will decrease, each of which in turn will cause more people to want to use the system. The system grows itself. This is all accomplished by making the system easier to figure out how to use.

Which brings me to the second point. This is done by spending money on software and technology. That money is not being spent now, anywhere near as much as it needs to be, and what was spent years ago is being wasted because there isn't anyone available to administer that technology because they've all been laid off. Web site improvements, for instance. Delays in getting new fareboxes in place. We've had GPS on the buses for eight years but still cannot track where the buses are, because that part of the package was not purchased (it was off-the-shelf stuff in 1999) and there's nobody in the I.T. department who can implement it even if we had it now. If we had that piece, you could check on your cell phone to see if the bus you're trying to catch has already passed you or not. All of that is 1997 technology, and we're NOWHERE near getting it, because all we want to do is cut the system. Chopping it into pieces will make it all that much more difficult to implement even if we do get the money and the manpower.

Short version of the above rant: Trash the Mustio/Turzai idea.