The Sorry State of Pittsburgh’s Public Transit

Nineshift is an interesting blog that touches on future developments in work, life, and education.  Right now they are doing a series on post-petroleum transportation and link to an article by Neil Peirce in the Seattle Times on light rail developments in various US cities.  For example, check out the Purple Line being considered in DC:



So, let’s talk about Pittsburgh.  We just spent millions of dollars on light rail…to build a tunnel UNDER the Allegheny River to the stadiums.  Yeah, that’ll help commuters.  Whatever happened to the East Hills?  Or for that matter, the North Hills?  That’s right, we have buses…except that the number of routes have been cut, and money is being spent on expensive trips and gifts.


Maglev seems to have died a slow death, and there’s still no replacement.  So a two million plus population metropolitan area has few light rail options and nothing is in sight but vaporware.  But hey, we got a spur linking us to our shiny new stadiums!


And let’s talk about Route 28 a moment, shall we?


In his book Citizen Soldiers, Stephen Ambrose tells how in the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II they laid 200 miles of road in two months – roads, mind you, that had to bear the weight of Tanks!  The M4 Sherman, mind you, weight 30 TONS!


Now, it takes Penndot 2 YEARS to pave six miles of road on Route 28?  And Route 22?  And we won’t even mention the fact that they’ve managed to tie up most of the main arteries in and out of the city this summer – yeah, that’s visitor friendly…


Well, I guess that’s what happens when you go with the lowest bidders.  Anybody have any ideas on how PernnDOT could improve within the scope of their budget?



9 thoughts on “The Sorry State of Pittsburgh’s Public Transit

  1. The millions of dollars for the tunnel? Blame the Federal Government. That was special project money.

    The drink tax is what cracks me up. They’ve made more money from it then what they expected. So why is PAT still cutting routes since it was for “mass transportation” and. hmmmm. I can’t tax my employer to get money to pay for my ever expanding budget. I actually have to *gasp* cut my budget to account for the money I’m given. Yet, PAT a GOVERNMENT agency isn’t required to trim unnecessary things out of its budget? It raises costs of commuting (Its $2 to travel out the BUSWAY! $1.50 to travel across the bridge on the subway!) and it had a drink tax put into place. Yet-I don’t see one thing about them having to make deep slashes in their budget other than to commuter services which is why they are even up and running in the first place.


  2. “Lowest bidder” isn’t the problem. Lack of accountability, !@#$-ing unions, and single-party strangle-hold on government. The right way to do things is to set your standards high for the job, give job to highest bidder willing and able to rise to the challenge, reward early and/or under-budget completion, and punish late/over-budget completion. Furthermore, apply similar standards to employees, and be willing to demote and fire as needed. Lastly, if at all possible, contract out work instead of handling it internally. IOW, take PAT out of inept and malfeasant hands and give it to a private company. If that company fouls things up, end the contract and hire someone else.

  3. Thanks for the replies, everybody! It’s a thorny problem, and it remains to be seen if any improvements will ever be made! I for one am not holding my breath…

  4. This is a letter to the editor I submitted to the Trib shortly after the Drink Tax was implemented. I was stationed in Iraq at the time and needless to say it was not published haha:

    I love Pittsburgh. I do not love the fact that we never seem to get out of our own way. This letter is primarily about the Port Authority. In starting I will quote a 2006 report authored by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy; “During the early 20th century, throughout the Western world, public mass transit was largely the domain of the private sector, with a number of competing operators providing services in major United States cities, such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. However, in the name of greater cost savings and enhanced efficiency, from 1930 to1970, private urban transit systems were taken over by the government and the promised cost savings and efficiency gains never materialized”.

    The behemoth Authority that has grown unchecked since the 1960’s has seen its time, and if anyone speaks of Revitalization, Modernization or any other catch-phrase attempting to describe our fair city / county without addressing its vacuum like appetite for dollars is only inviting more crippling tax measures in the future. If we truly want to advance from a financial and population challenged mediocrity we must face the music and privatize our urban transportation system. This has been successfully accomplished in cities and provinces larger and smaller than ours. In Canada, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Chile, New Zealand and Australia privatization in one form or another was the answer. The report cited above should be required reading for anyone concerned about our region.

    Over 300 private companies were taken over by Allegheny County in the early sixties and the experiment has failed. As with any other foray into business, where the bottom line is inconsequential, a runaway train (or bus) has been created. Competitive contracting is the realistic, common sense solution to more than one of the woes created by the current state of the Port Authority. Doomsayers will gather and diehard old schoolers will concoct tales of diminished services and safety being scuttled to garner profits to the greedy evil capitalist transportation company owners. I would refer these folks to the city of Adelaide, Australia where a 38% per year savings was achieved and no deterioration of services was evident. The Port Authority does not need to be eliminated from the equation, just limited to policymaking. We must take PAT out of the Transit Operations business and create a competitive market for transportation providers. This must be done carefully and over time, no one needs to be hurt by this process, as the tax base (me) is being hurt now. For this process to succeed it needs to be legislatively driven with support from the government. I can assure you that some of the most ridiculous decisions made during PAT’s tenure would not have made it out of an initial boardroom meeting.

    What serious minded person would even consider the current tunnel project amongst so many existing bridges? If a potential profit was possible, how long do you think it would take for a low cost, easy access solution to go from Downtown or Oakland directly to the airport to materialize? I was just back from a tour in South Korea in the mid eighties when I went to a comedy show. The comedian opened with a joke that still makes me laugh, “I love Pittsburgh, it’s the only town that has a subway that goes around the @#%$ block”. If we don’t seriously look at reforming this industry, a child of one party rule, 10% poured drink taxes and rental car taxes will only continue to be the solutions we get. I will look for a politician to seriously mention this idea when talking about our public transportation quagmire, and if I see him or her I will know, Democrat, Republican or Independent, a Leader has emerged.

  5. The reason for the tunnel across the Allegheny was that by connecting the south side to the Stadiums was a way to justify the investment it would take to link the North Side & future East side to the “T”. The 10 year plan is to then run spur lines into the north hills, north east along Rt 28, and possibly link up with the East Busway in Wilkensburg. NONE of this will happen, if the “T” remains buried in the South Hills as it is now.

    So some of the (short sighted) public sees this building project as simply extending the “T” to the stadiums, but the Long term effects are that it will cause the stadiums area to be a major hub section in Pittsburgh’s North “T” future.

    At least, that’s the long term goal of the project. There’s no telling how long the funding will remain available.


  6. Well, since you posted this in 2008 things have only gotten worse. Senior citizens are horrified that so many routes have been cut. Again. No end in sight because we STILL have one ruling party. Sigh.

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