Monday, August 9, 2010

Public Transit III: And what was all that talk about?

According to Wikipedia (we cannot trust it 100%, but this is not serious, serious research) PAT is “the 11th largest [public transit] agency in the U.S.”A statement that can only make me wonder how much worse public transit is for the rest of the U.S. No wonder that in 2005 USA accounts for 18.33% of the global yearly greenhouse emissions, second only to China and it is ranked as number one for cumulative emissions in the 1990-2005 period(1). For contrast, in the same year EU (27) accounted for only 13.35% of the global yearly greenhouse emission (1) even though its population is larger: 490.898 million (2) compared to 288.4 million (3) for the United States.

The statement that, a solid public transit network can help reduce emissions and our dependency on oil is a truism. So I will not spend my time and space on numbers –though I am sure that a solid research can be done. I will return instead to my previous posts on the subject:

The first one, Public Transit I, covers the public transit system in various other cities, most of them European cities. The point?


Benchmarking is the research of supply chains and operation management of similar companies, organizations etc. which are successful in order to improve your own operations and supply chain.

Or, in short and simple English, benchmarking is to learn from other successful businesses how to make yours better than theirs.

So what could PAT learn from the transit agencies covered in the first post?

From Bucharest’s RATB it can learn that the use that transit can be re-directed so instead of converging to one focal point: downtown, it will converge towards several interconnected points in the core area of the city. And of course the connection between these points has to be able to avoid traffic so we are talking about a busway or an assigned bus lane, T rails or underground connections. The gain: By avoiding concentration to one point, the transit system can avoid unpredictable delays during peak traffic hours as well as major events such as sport events, official visits, major conventions etc.

From Budapest’s BKV it can learn how to take advantage of all resources (trains, ferry, incline) in order to cover a huge area and serve a population counted in millions.

From Freiburg’s RVF it can learn how to manage the transit system and solve the problem of wages and salaries by outsourcing services to several subcontractors that specialize on different types of transit (railway, rural transit, city transit). And for VAG it can learn how to cover a whole city and offer service to about 210,000 people per day with a minimal number of routes.

From New York’s MTA it can learn that it can be done in the United States as well, and how it can be done in the States.

The second post , Public Service, describes the way a client perceived two major nonprofit agencies offering a certain type of services  we call “public”. The point?


Unlike the users of services such as Medicaid and food stamps, a majority of people taking advantage of the specific services offered by the city’s public library and county’s public transit system do have alternatives. These alternatives are obviously costlier –as it is more expensive to buy books or purchase a ticket to see a magic show – and in the case of public transit they are also inconvenient -to find parking in Oakland or Downtown is not only expensive but also difficult. However, most of these people are also American consumers. Therefore, if PAT does not even look as if it is trying to make it a pleasant experience, most of these consumers will find alternatives.

For example: several people complain about the condition of sidewalks (or lack thereof).

The answer: It is not our property; we cannot make any changes, contact your city district or your borough.

Ok, I got that – you cannot fix it. But, can you help? Is PAT able to show me, the customer, that at least it cares as much as I do if I get to the bus stop in one piece or not? After all it is PAT’s interest as much  as it is mine. If I break my legs (or worse) they lose a client. To give another example of what is this “ show that you care “ that I am talking about let’s take Walmart and their organic cotton apparel campaign. It is quite obvious that Walmart is not selling organic cotton t-shirts for $5 for direct profit, but in order to retain the cash strapped liberal & environmental conscious consumers it gained recently. What does the Walmart example illustrate? Maybe consumers turned to Walmart’s goods or PAT’s services because it was their only option on the short term. Or because they perceive it as less costly in a period when “cost awareness” and “price sensitivity” is the trend on the market. But you (Walmart/PAT) still need to show that you need them as much as they need you. You have to show them that you care about their particular needs. Because what builds a strong business or organization is not a fad or a short term need but consumer loyalty.

In all honesty, the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is definitely trying to improve both services as well as the way they communicate with their clients. It is a start, I admit…But it is a very timid start in my opinion. And this is exactly what I am going to write about in the fourth and last post from the Public Transit series.

(1) Source Climate Analysis Indicator Tool (CAIT)
(2) Source: EPP.Eurostat
(3)Sourse : U.S. Census


Julie said...

Interesting posts, Ana (I just read all three). My daughter lives in New York City and tells me the costs of their public transit may be increased, while services would be decreased.

I'm not sure if it has happened, or if it is just being discussed. If it happens, it will be rough on people who are already struggling.

Ana said...

I have heard about New York. But even if they decrease services there, it is still so much better than here.
What about your area? What do you think about public transit in North Carolina?