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Port Authority Study Suggests Better Technology, Ways to Improve Finances

Now that the cash-strapped Port Authority of Allegheny County, Pa., has more funding through the state's new transportation law, recommendations of improvement were offered as part of a week-long study of the transit agency,

by Bobby Kerlik, McClatchy News Service / May 19, 2014

The Port Authority of Allegheny County, Pa., needs to upgrade its technology to give riders real-time data about buses and trains, and consider charging people who use park-and-ride lots.

Those recommendations were offered on Friday as part of the Urban Land Institute's weeklong study of the transit agency. Port Authority hired the Washington-based nonprofit for $125,000 suggest improvements now that the cash-strapped agency has more funding through the state's new transportation law.

“Funding is still not available for large, long-term projects. There's been maintenance that's been deferred for a long time that needs to be addressed. That said, there still is room for technology innovations — real-time information such as the next bus, next train time, mobile ticketing,” said Dave Leininger, CFO of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, who was the study chairman. “They can do this technology stuff in a relatively short period of time.”

Port Authority began a pilot program in August for the P1 East Busway route that tracks the buses in real time but has yet to expand it to the rest of the fleet. By the end of June, it's expected to be on additional routes. The T is expected to have real-time updates next year.

A panel of transit experts from across the country, including Leininger, spent a week in Pittsburgh meeting with Port Authority officials, transit groups and riders, and will prepare a written report in 90 days. The experts presented an overview of their findings to the public on Friday.

Among the recommendations:

  • Charge $2 per day for people to park in the park-and-ride lots, bringing in an additional $3 million annually.
  • Explore expanding Allegheny County's 1 percent sales tax to surrounding counties to expand transit service there.
  • Improve on-time performance.
  • Focus more on transit-oriented real estate developments.
  • Explore contracted service during peak times or nights.
  • Improve traffic signal coordination.
  • Evaluate underutilized Port Authority-owned land and underutilized land owned by other government agencies around transit lines.
  • Improve bus shelters by adding real-time boards about the next ride.

“We're very excited about (the presentation). We need to digest it, but it's a great launching pad for us,” Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean said.

McLean called the park-and-ride fee worth exploring and said the agency is seeking to improve its on-time performance by adding additional buses on crowded routes later this year.

McLean worked for the Urban Land Institute before Port Authority hired her.

Port Authority officials on Thursday released the agency's $390 million budget for fiscal year 2015, which includes a 6.25-percent spending increase and plans to hire 31 people. Port Authority anticipates it will receive more than $557 million through fiscal year 2019 from revenue generated by increased gas taxes and vehicle-related fees as part of the transportation law.

The Heinz Endowments, Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the county's Community Infrastructure & Tourism Fund, which receives money from a local share of a tax on casino gambling, contributed $61,000 toward the Urban Land Institute's fee.

©2014 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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