Port Authority needs to reevaluate business practices

Written By Alex Stumpf

The Port Authority’s latest cuts of 37 routes by March 27th will leave thousands of people without any means of transportation, 13,000 people, to be exact.Pittsburgh’s Port Authority has struggled financially the past few years for a variety of reasons, the most notable problems being increasing gas prices and a strong union, representing the drivers. This has led to fare spikes and a route cuts as they desperately attempt to balance the budget — a recipe for disaster for Point Park University students; with a majority of the University’s students being commuters, many students use the PAT buses to get to class. Less available routes create havoc. Riders have protested these changes in many ways, from Facebook groups to rallies, but little seems to be accomplished.The real problem lies in the fact that the Port Authority is a classic example of a bad business model. For example, it now costs $2.25 to ride a bus in Pittsburgh, the same price it would cost to ride a subway in New York City. The only difference is that New York’s subway consistently draws a profit because there is advertising everywhere. This is a good, simple way to bring money in. In comparison, one will seldom see a Port Authority bus covered with ads. It is true that a PAT bus will not be able to bring in the same revenue as a New York subway train, but at the very least they should try to fill up space.  It’s never a good sign whenever the majority of ads on a bus are for the Port Authority itself. They could at least make it look like they have tried everything in their power to raise money before they ask for government money or increasing fares again. Next, they need to add smaller shuttle buses.  Many financial experts believe that due to political turmoil in the Middle East, gas prices could skyrocket. That being said, running a half-full giant bus would be a very poor business plan. Smaller shuttles will hold about half the passengers as a regular bus, and would not only save gas, but can save some routes and jobs. This would keep passengers from having to find another mode of transportation to work or school, saving some of the possible 13,000 customers these route cuts would affect.Finally, both the union and the Port Authority leaders need to be able to reach compromises in negotiations. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Brian O’Neil criticized both sides of the negation tables, saying that a few simple compromises would have been the difference in saving some of these routes. Both sides are too stubborn; they need to realize that neither the union nor the business will be able to survive without one another. One side is going to have to be the bigger man and end this nonsense, or there may be no bus service in Pittsburgh to speak of.Poor business practices may have dug a deep financial hole for the Port Authority, but there is no reason why they cannot turn a profit again even if 2011 is going to be a tough year for them. If they are able to turn a profit in this economic year, there may be hope for them yet.