It's been about three weeks since the Port Authority put into motion the latest round of service cuts aimed at trying to rectify the long time budget deficits that have plagued the long suffering transit agency for the better part of a decade. Routes were cut, renamed, folded, spindled and mutilated, and the basic fare has gone up 3 times in the last five or so years. Many routes were shut down for weekends and holidays, and service on even the most popular routes has been cut back. It's not uncommon to wait up to almost a half-hour for a bus on Saturdays and up to an hour on Sundays, if the route has service at all.
Understandably, the hundreds of thousands of riders who depend on public transportation for work, school and recreation feel it more than anyone. Buses are much more crowded, riders have voiced their concerns in countless rallies, and there seems to be no real solution in sight
As someone who depends almost exclusively on Port Authority to get around, I have to plan my life around bus schedules. No big deal, I've been doing it since I was thirteen years old. I'm an old hand at riding the bus. Put me anywhere in Allegheny County, and I can get home as long as I can catch a bus. I can get from one end of the county to the other on two buses max, although these days, that takes a little more planning than in the past. But it's safe to say, that if there's a bus that will get me within walking distance of where I want to go, I can get there.
There are a bunch of reasons why the Port Authority is in the mess it's in. Lack of a stable source of state funding is one, and with Governor Tom "The Machete" Corbett presently in charge in Harrisburg, it's safe to say that he's not going to be PAT's savior. The Port Authority itself is not exactly a model of efficiency in terms of minding its business. There's any amount of cutting and streamlining that needs to be done there. The Authority is stuck with a high number of retiree's pensions that they are duty bound to honor, and there's not going to be any cuts that can be made there without causing no small amount of pain. I'll be the first to admit that I don't have the answers.
But I often hear from people, most of whom have never ridden a bus in their lives, that maybe they should cut drivers salaries to that which the 'free market' can bear. The average wage of a Port Authority driver is about $17.00/hour, not including overtime. There are those who believe that drivers wages should be cut as much as half of that number, about $9.00/hour. To those people, I say, 'you are idiots that have no clue of what you're talking about.'
I'm not the biggest pro-union guy on the planet. Unions have their place, and they perform an important service, although they have been known to shoot themselves in the foot as much as management does. But I will not begrudge a Port Authority driver the money he makes or the benefits he earns.
I don't want a $9.00/hour driver taking me to work, to church, to the Legion or anywhere else I have to go. I want someone who knows how to thread a 40 foot bus weighing 20 tons and loaded down with up to 60 passengers down streets that in most cases in Pittsburgh, haven't been widened since they were first laid down over 150 years ago. I want someone who knows how to deal with automobile drivers who act like they got their driver's licenses from the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks and somehow think that said 40 ton bus can stop on a dime and give back nine cents change, when they cut in front of that bus while yakking on the cellphone that is surgically grafted to their ear.
I want someone who knows how to deal with passengers who act like they were raised by wolves and don't have the brains that God gave a coop full of chickens. Passengers who'll try every story in the book to beat the fare, even though they are wearing clothes that cost more than my paycheck. Passengers who ask whether the bus goes Downtown when the sign on the front of the bus says in 12 inch high letters that can be seen from halfway across town, that yes, this bus does go Downtown. Passengers who come on the bus in various stages of intoxication whether by alcohol, drugs, or by agents unknown and proceed to enlighten every other rider with whatever the voices in their heads are telling them whether said riders want to be enlightened or not. Passengers for whom soap and water is a foreign concept. Passengers under the age of adulthood who feel that cursing every third word from their sewer mouths makes them grown, and who can't talk on their cellphone at anything less than a tortured scream. Passengers who have no idea about the fare hike despite the fact that the local media has been talking about it for a month and a half prior to the raise going into effect. I want someone who can weave through the traffic on Fifth Avenue in Oakland at rush hour like a scat back carving up a defense. Or deal with the narrow streets of Downtown that haven't changed since the horse and buggy days. I want someone who can get me to point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible, and if, for some reason they can't because of breakdowns, altercations, the Steelers losing, or whatever, can get on the horn and get a mechanic or a replacement coach out ASAP.
And I want someone who can do all of that and still somehow keep a decent attitude. I see the abuse drivers take. I've seen them spat upon, struck, cussed out, flipped off, and the pros seem to let it wash over them like water off a ducks back. And when those drivers who have been victimized ask for witnesses to the incident, I have no problem filling out a form. Are there bad drivers that were born with a burr up their ass, and haven't smiled since the Pirates last had a winning season? Of course, there are. Unfortunately one of the disadvantages of being in a position where you have to help the public is that occasionally you have to deal with those who should have been placed in a burlap bag and drowned in the Mon at birth. And those drivers who abuse the public in that manner should be reprimanded, and if the abuse is severe enough, be fired. But I can also see how even some of the most hardened and seasoned drivers can lose their cool. And I'm more likely to side with the driver in a altercation with a passenger, because I've seen how bus riders can be.
And I don't believe that the Port Authority would be able to find people who can put up with the shit that drivers put up with for $9.00/hour. So if a competent driver who's courteous, professional, cool-headed, and above all safe, has to get $17.00/hour, I have no problem paying for it.
I don't personally know any Port Authority drivers. I'm not related to any, and I have no agenda. I just want show the drivers a little love and let them know that at least one rider appreciates all they have to put up with to get me where I need to go.