Goodbye, 500

So the big news here in the City of Bridges (haha, I know, that’s not our name) is that we’re losing alot of bus routes. 124 out of 213 weekday routes, 55 of 100 Saturday routes and 26 of 75 Sunday routes (see the full list here). Things are being said, like most of the routes being cut will be those that go way out to suburbia, that if we don’t do this now we’ll lose the busses all together in the future, and that this is simply a matter of fact that needs to happen in Pittsburgh. Fine.

I personally like the idea of having a $2 flat fee with unlimited transfers for a couple of hours afterwards. I also don’t mind suburbia relying on their cars or working in their suburban strip malls, or God forbid, having to move into the actual city that they claim to live in.

But the more and more I read about this, the more and more I remember how bloated the Port Authority is, the more and more I focus on the idea that being able to rely on busses and not have a car is one of my top 3 reasons for living in a city anyway, the more I start to rethink my life.

Take these few examples:

  1. As a young coffee shop clerk working in the Steel Plaza T stop I was privvy to watching some aspects of the Port Authority at work. Prior to 9/11, the Port Authority had its own guards, policemen if you will, who “patrolled” the subway station. Keep in mind that this is a small subway station, two floors but very wide open, if I were to speak on the top floor and there was no T rolling through, you would certainly be able to hear me below. And this was the largest of the three subway stops downtown. Three Port Authority policemen were assigned to this station. They would primarily stand around together and long tooth one another, talk to me on occasion, and harrass the janitor working their.
  2. Which brings me to my second point. There was a dedicated janitor working there. She worked a full 8 hour shift and when she left, another lady came in and worked second shift. Also, during the day, there was a foreman type of a boss, who I assume was more of a maintenance man than a janitor, but nonetheless, three people, one station (though I believe the maintenance man/foreman looked over all three stops).
  3. Ever need to know where to catch a bus? You could always use Google Transit (which obviously has its faults alongside its advantages) or the Port Authority’s Trip Planner (which is a bit bloated and takes awhile to get used to), but maybe you’re not at a computer. Maybe when you need to know where to catch a bus you’re already somewhere else, out there in the real world. In Portland they have an ingenius system: each bus stop has an ID number, you call up Trimet (their transit company) and type in the ID number of where you are and tell them where you want to go. It’s all automated. Works great. Loved it. Here we have a slightly different approach: hire call center people. So aside from the fact that I often sit on hold so long waiting to find out when the next bus comes that, well, the next bus comes (and too often goes) but they’re paying these people. Now I don’t wish anyone to lose their job, but if you’re looking at a budget crisis….

Now don’t get me wrong, I think we have a pretty decent bus system. Not as good as Portlands. Not as good as San Franciscos. Not as good as…okay, well those are all that I’ve tried. But still, I manage to get around pretty well using our busses and its a great trade off – a little inconvenience – in exchange for not having the pains and pressures of a car. But keep in mind the key adjective their: little.

Make it a big inconvenience, and I either need to get myself a car (which I won’t be doing anytime soon) or get myself a new city. And as unlikely as many people may think that sounds, lose the public transportation system, and lose a big chunk of us up-and-comers who are here sticking by this city while it grows. I’m happy to wait for us to become the next Seattle or Portland, but only if it seems like it’s happening. Today I don’t feel like it is…

Up Next: Running Old Internet Explorer Browsers Alongside IE7