Chief Executive of Pittsburgh’s Public Transportation System Talks with Heinz Students

Sep 11, 2012


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Steve Bland, the CEO of Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC), which oversees passenger rail and bus service in Pittsburgh, delivered a talk at Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III College to a packed room of students on September 6th on the current challenges and opportunities facing the region’s public transit system.

Steve’s talk, entitled “Saving Public Transit in Pittsburgh…and Building the System We Want!” treated students to an overview of PAAC’s operations and the nature of the financial crisis that PAAC and transit management agencies across the country face in an era of government deficits at the state and local level.  In the presentation he described how PAAC compares to other similar agencies with respect to operating efficiency, and some of the root causes of its current fiscal troubles, including legacy costs and unstable funding streams. 

Steve also went over some of PAAC’s strategic responses to the crisis, including a major redesign of service routes, shifting the fleet to larger buses, privatizing functions where feasible, shrinking administrative costs at the central office, and adapting promising new fare collection technologies. 

The North Shore Connector was discussed, as was the subject of transit oriented development and implementing a bus rapid transit corridor between Oakland and the Golden Triangle.  Steve also briefly described the recent breakthrough agreement with the transit union, and the ongoing negotiations with Commonwealth over funding moving forward.

In Q&A students asked about the possibility of scheduling/arrival time mobile applications, student bus fees, privatizing bus service, the idea of installing luggage racks on buses, and more.

Bland proved to be a great, gracious, and very funny speaker, chock full of cautionary yet amusing anecdotes of what students will really be in for if they choose a career in public management, yet at the same time careful to note the deeply meaningful aspects of a job concerned with serving the public good (with scarce resources).

The talk was sponsored by the Center for Economic Development (CED) at Heinz College, where Steve serves as an Executive Fellow .  The CED’s Fellows are all top leaders of key economic, community, or workforce related institutions in Pittsburgh committed to training the next generation of practitioners in their fields.  Through this partnership, Steve and Port Authority have sponsored two system synthesis projects for students at Heinz.  In 2010 for example, PAAC asked a group of students to examine the economic and community impacts of implementing a bus rapid transit corridor from Oakland to Downtown Pittsburgh. 

In his talk, Steve also described the multitude of technology systems currently installed on PAAC buses, which collectively generate terabytes of data every operating day.  This has created both an opportunity and a challenge for using data to make better transit management decisions.  In the spring of 2012, with PAAC again as client, a new group of students will investigate this very question in a project entitled “Putting Intelligent Transportation Systems to Work,” part of which will involve looking at brand new data available from newly deployed technologies on Port Authority’s buses. 

PAAC has also been a key supporter of the College’s Traffic 21 initiative on intelligent transportation research, which recently received a University Transportation Research Center award from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

These learning opportunities underscore the fact that Heinz College is a great place to learn about and get engaged in issues on urban transportation policy.

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