Good: Bus talks require equal concessions

By Mike Good

It’s no surprise that negotiations between County Executive Dan Onorato and Amalgamated… It’s no surprise that negotiations between County Executive Dan Onorato and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 President Patrick McMahon to restore service cuts faltered again this week.

The fundamental difference between the two parties is that, whereas Onorato wants a long-term plan to assuage the Port Authority’s woes before restoring service, McMahon wants to find a short-term solution to debt issues and restore service as quickly as possible, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. As I searched for the now-deceased 500, I wondered what the future holds for the Port Authority.

A good public transportation system is like economic adrenaline. Buses shuttle workers and consumers into and around the city, physically allowing supply and demand to join forces. With bus cuts, people lose the potential to shop and work in different neighborhoods, and the end result is that the government loses money. Make no mistake: Students and universities are some of the strongest economic pipelines in this city. In hard money terms, Chancellor Nordenberg’s 2009 Economic Impact Report demonstrated their grave importance — University-wide, $1.74 billion was infused into the local economy in 2008, $246 million of that coming directly from Pitt’s 27,000 students. And in my opinion much of this spending wouldn’t have been possible without access to an efficient bus system, as Pitt and Carnegie Mellon haven’t been paying Port Authority millions each year to allow “free” student access for nothing. It concerns me that not only will bus cuts threaten the local economic benefits of students, but also that the cuts will force undeserving students to pay the same transportation fee for potentially lesser service. We are not the cause of this trouble.

But we are fortunate as students. Although the route cuts affect us, I don’t think anyone will reconsider attending Pitt or drop out of school because the commute to class is too difficult. Students lived in Lawrenceville before an Oakland-Lawrenceville bus route was established. But the same does not always apply to someone who commutes from one neighborhood to work in another. The possibility of buses becoming less frequent will make employees seriously reconsider working far from home.

I don’t understand what the priorities of our city and state government are. All I seem to hear these days are “more jobs” and “less debt.” But I pay my taxes with the hope that my elected officials will spend this money intelligently.

What Pittsburgh needs to have are simple bus routes with central hubs. Is it necessary to have six bus stops along Forbes and Fifth avenues in an eight-block stretch, even when taking into account the high population of Oakland riders? I’m just a student, but I know other people who are equally quizzical when it comes to our buses and the way our money is being utilized.

At this point, I’m frustrated. Public transportation is a good thing, and something many citizens would consider a right. Port Authority cuts carbon emissions by reducing the amount of CO2 spewed from cars. And since 2010, Port Authority has begun to employ 28 hybrid vehicles to increase its efficiency and further reduce emissions, according to a Port Authority fact sheet.

It’s time to get these buses running. I need some transparency from this government. I want to know Dan Onorato’s “long-term” solutions, solutions that don’t force lopsided concessions. Realize that the ATU has proposed wage freezes and salary cuts that, according to the Tribune Review, would save Port Authority $16 million. But despite this, Port Authority and Onorato want more: $20 million in cuts and $10 million in increased revenue, according to the Tribune-Review.

Port Authority is allegedly set to carry a $60 million structural deficit this year. It is also the 11th largest public transportation system in the country. I accept that some unions demand more benefits than they sometimes deserve, but where I see one party making concessions and compromising to keep the buses running, I see the other immovable and deaf.

It’s troubling to think that Onorato was our alternative to Tom Corbett as governor. If we are really a democracy, then I think it’s time our elected officials take the time to listen and get some real results.

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