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Pittsburgh Bus System: Some Answers, More Questions

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’d like to follow up my earlier post on the Pittsburgh bus system with a more careful examination of facts collected from the website of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC), who operate the public transportation systems in Pittsburgh and its surroundings. I’ll take this in two parts:

  1. First, a quick survey of the PAAC website to get a qualitative sense of what they might be doing to improve the bus system.
  2. A closer look at their financial statements to understand how we got to where we are today.

1. Quick Survey: It’s apparent to anyone who rides the bus routinely that there is a lot of room for improvement in its operation. Is the PAAC working to improve things? Their website – http://www.portauthority.orgstates that they’re doing work to improve the actual operations:

In 2010, Port Authority began instituting route changes under its Transit Development Plan (TDP), the result of more than two years of planning and feedback from thousands of riders, all with the aim to make transit smarter and more efficient. …

More improvements are in the works, including bus stop consolidation and streamlined Downtown circulation. …

Port Authority also recently installed new fareboxes on its entire vehicle fleet in preparation for a new smart card system – called ConnectCard – that will be introduced in the near future. This system promises to make fare payment easier and more convenient for riders.

Well, then, some of the ideas I wrote about – fewer stops, simpler no-cash payment – are already in the works. In fact, the card reader that Pitt ID holders use, where we just tap the box, is part of the new system being unveiled.

2. Financial Statements: It’s common knowledge around these parts that PAAC is short on money. Briefly, they fund their operations from transit revenues (ex: bus fares) and from tax money – mostly state and local. As of my writing this, you can find the budget book for each year going back to the late 90s. I focused on 2004-present, since this takes us back to the previous CEO’s tenure.

Each year’s budget book is ~ 200 pages long. So there are LOTS of financial data to parse, peruse, and plot. Let’s look at this figure I put together:

The blue bars show the total operating expense each year. Refer to the left axis. Operations are the cost of running the services each day and paying everyone responsible; separate from “capital projects”, which covers the purchase of new equipment and building new bridges or such. The actual numbers are shown, except for 2010 and 2011, which are projected numbers since the actual number is reported in the budget book two years later.

The purple bars show the bus-specific expenses from within the Transit Operations. Refer to the left axis. The bus-specific expenses include salaries and wages, “fringe benefits”, and material/supply costs, e.g., fuel. In some years’ books, these are reported as one number; in some, they are broken out between Bus Operation and Bus Maintenance. In those cases, I’ve added together Operation and Maintenance so we can compare different years directly.

The markers and line in black show the number of employees each year in within Transit Operations, specifically for the bus system. Again, in the years that they were reported separately between Operators and Maintenance, I’ve added the two together so we can compare different years directly.

So what conclusions could we draw from this figure? Since 2004, the total money spent on operations has gone up and then held about steady around $330 million after 2008. The money spent on bus-specific operations has gone up as well, but not nearly as rapidly as the total budget. Lastly, the number of bus-specific operators has fallen sharply 2004 to 2009, by ~ 300 employees. [So, one piece of data corroborating the anecdotal evidence of unreliable-to-crappy bus service. Fewer drivers ~ fewer buses on the road, it might seem.]

Questions raised:

  1. Why the steady decrease in the number of bus operators? Are they getting too expensive to sustain on a budget for expenses that does not grow significantly?
  2. What are the most costly components of the operating budget in this time frame? Salaries and wages, fuel, or “fringe benefits” a la pensions, healthcare, and company cars?

Re: question 2, I can give you a flavor for where the answer might lie. Recall these yearly financial statements are 200 pages long – everything is there, in one form or another. Let’s look at 2008 as an example. These are screenshots taken directly from the book:

This first chart shows how money is budgeted to be spent in FY 2008. $115 million for fringe benefits – for EVERYONE employed by the PAAC.

The next table comes from the budget for Transit Operations, specifically. In FY 2008, they have budgeted $15 million for fringe benefits.

Lastly, here’s a pie chart showing the distribution of employees by job function.

My initial thoughts are:

  1. Operators are 48% of the total people employed by PAAC.
  2. The fringe benefits to be paid out in Transit Operations comes to 13% of the total fringe benefits paid by PAAC.

 

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  1. December 29, 2011 at 10:20 am

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