Pittsburgh's poor transit system is one of the big reasons why the city is not mentioned as a leading sustainable city in the annual sustainability rankings that are released by a few publications each year. With all of the service cuts and debates about tax hikes to raise money for public transportation here in Allegheny County, isn't it about time we looked at alternatives to the tax and cut service mentality that has existed since I moved here over ten years ago(and probably long before then) ?
I used the word "privatization" on one of the burgh blogs as a fix for the mess we have here and was immediately chastised, although I don't see why people didn't look beyond the 'P' word to see examples of successful transit privatization programs in places such as Denver. Privatization of public transit, or at least partial privatization through contracting, has had success in some regions, such as Denver, but it also has had its share of failures. Private transportation, it has been argued, does not cover enough ground as it has zero incentive to cover less than optimal routes. While I have not seen this in action, I could see a for-profit transit company only running routes that are profitable - just like a lot of companies today that focus on customer profitability.
How about a public-private partnership run transit service? Advance Transit is a free bus service covering parts of New Hampshire and Vermont that was started by a non-profit back in 1984. I repeat, Advance Transit is free, and its been around for over 20 years. The service relies on a combination of federal, state, and private donations in order to operate effectively, and at an operating cost of $2.8 million per year, it provides better bang for the buck than traditional public transit.
From the Clean Air Cool Planet website:
Some of the goals of the project are to reduce local traffic congestion, to provide commuters with an efficient and convenient alternative to driving alone, to improve access to local jobs, to provide mobility to senior citizens who are not driving, and to offer convenient transit access to area hospitals, shopping centers, schools, and community agencies.
What is not to like about this program? What would it take to get something like this here in Pittsburgh? For starters, there is a growing concern with the lack of contributions from the powerful non-profits in Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (known as UPMC in these parts) is a non-profit that raked in over $500 million in profits last year. The city cannot tax them but it needs to find ways to get them to foot part of the bill for city services.
A public-private transit partnership makes sense here in Pittsburgh. The old public transit will not vanish, but augmentation with new services is necessary to keep this region from going from most livable to most taxed and least commutable. It is time to implement new solutions for our transit problems that are proven to work instead of the same old solution we have done in the past - which is to cut service and raise fares and taxes. It is time to open up to new ideas instead of going with the status quo which has brought up to this point.
While more light rail coverage would be ideal, that won't happen overnight. A new network of public and privately funded buses could be a reality tomorrow.