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Port Authority of Allegheny County is moving to privatize routes & maintenance.
by stephen donahue Monday, May. 23, 2005 at 12:42 PM

Years of state funding shortfalls are about to pay off for the free marketeers.

On April 1, 2005 a whole slew of public transit activists got a packet of information in the mail from Pennsylvania State Senator Jane Orie. Enclosed in this mailing were five policy papers and articles from such libertarian think tanks as the Commonwealth Foundation, the Lincoln Institute and the Richard Mellon Scaife funded Allegheny Institute.

The titles of the articles that Senator Orie sent out were quite telling. One, from right winger Lowman Henry of the Lincoln Institute was entitled, “Train Wreck, Transit Bailout is Fiscal Folly.” Another from Dr. Jake “raise the fare and cut the service” Haulk was entitled, “Funding Crisis? No, it’s a Spending Crisis.”

These titles speak for themselves and many transit activists who had been hearing from the fork tongued Senator Orie about how much she wanted to fund public transit were suddenly confused. Others however, were not as they remembered that it was Senator Orie who led the charge to force the City of Pittsburgh to begin to enact free market “reforms” such as the privatization of city services as a condition for any state aid designed to deal with a fiscal crisis there.

On May 20 and again on May 21, 2005 the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that the Port Authority of Allegheny County wants to privatize one fifth of its bus routes and its vehicle maintenance under terms of a new contract being negotiated between the Authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85.

The Port Authority is citing the ongoing privatization being forced on the City of Pittsburgh as a precedent for moving toward contracting out its own service. Port Authority managers are also aware that a special "Transportation Funding and Reform Commission" that Governor Rendell established by executive order in March of 2005 and which will begin meeting in June has as one of its mandates the study of moving toward competitive contracting (a form of privatization) as a way to reduce transit agency operations costs.

The PA Legislature and the Governor have set public transit up.

In recent months there has been a stupid back and forth between those who claim that the fiscal crisis effecting public transit in Pennsylvania is bogus and those who claim that it is not. The fact is that they are both right. Year after year of state funding that has always failed to keep up with inflation has left public transit entities all across the state with a bad fiscal hangover. Funding streams for public transit are structurally deficient and there is a dangerously real fiscal crisis facing public transit in Pennsylvania.

Yet in a sense this crisis is also contrived. For years state policy makers have been aware of the structural problems facing public transit funding and yet they have done absolutely nothing. Why haven’t they acted? Well for one thing these policy makers wanted both SEPTA (in southeast PA) and the Port Authority to have to enter into contract negotiations with their unions while under the cloud of a major fiscal shortfall. Pennsylvania policy makers want this fiscal crisis. They want it to serve as a pretext for union concessions, union busting and privatization. This has been their game plan for years as they have taken their marching orders from right wing free marketeer think tanks.

All who depend on public transit in this so called “commonwealth” have been set up by our law makers.

So what gives?

In 1999 the State of Colorado mandated that 35% of the Denver Regional Transit District’s (DRTD) overall service be privatized. Today 50% of the service is contracted out. This of course lowers operating costs for the Denver Transit District because the district no longer needs to give a damn about the wages and benefits for 50% of those who make the system work.

The Port Authority does not operate for a profit but private operators like Laidlaw and First Transit only exist for profit. Bids for bus routes or for bus maintenance must be low enough to win the contract but they also must ensure the bidder a heaping profit. So what gives? Wages give. Health care gives. Job retention gives. Service gives. Human dignity gives.

In Denver private operators have found it hard to retain qualified drivers who want to work for $6.50 an hour so one company began to advertise for drivers with, “no experience needed.” Privatization of routes has led to incredible wage disparities for those working contracted out routes and those working routes still run by the public entity. In San Diego contracted out drivers make $6.50 an hour while non-contracted out drivers make up to $16.88 an hour. There are operators for San Diego Transit who are on welfare.

Turning a public transit system or segments of it over to free marketeers is sold to the public as a cost savings measure but the real issue profit. Believe me if there was no profit to be made in contracting out public services then nobody would bid for the contract. It’s all about PROFITS. Profits gained at the expense of bus drivers, mechanics, cleaners and riders.

Save Our Transit has not worked so hard for increased public funding for our public transit just to sit idly by now and watch it be Wal-Mart-ized. The adequate public funding for public transit that we seek must ensure that the system is not privatized, that wages for all Port Authority workers are just, that all Port Authority workers have family health care and that all riders enjoy excellent service at reasonable fares.

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by ......... Thursday, May. 26, 2005 at 1:22 PM

Thanks for the heads up...damn politicians...

Hmm...I'm not sure if I agree about the reasonable fairs though. I was in Austin not too long ago and was amazed that the fair was only 75 cents...I guess they believe in funding public transit

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check uk you may have support
by irrelevant Sunday, May. 29, 2005 at 7:38 PM

u.k. had a great many problems with private entities taking control taking money and taking civil rights

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