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Ed Tennyson, Former Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Transportation:
Years ago I was City Transit Engineer for Philadelphia, then Deputy Commissioner for Transit Engineering. I went to Harrisburg as Deputy Secretary of Transportation for 7.5 years where I funded the South Busway in Pittsburgh, a big mistake, and the Sixth Avenue subway for Light Rail, which increased patronage by 50 %.
The Pennsylvania Legislature has got to be voter-educated to the fact that with free highways, public transit can not exist on the fare box alone. Voters must show the Legislature that rail transit saves money and does not cost taxpayers anything net. For example, Pennsylvanians consume about 510 gallons of motor fuel per capita per year, which is worth about ten billion dollars per year. The average state consumes almost 600 gallons per capita per year, with some of the poorest states consuming the most, something their poor can ill afford. It makes them even poorer.
If Pennsylvania did not have Amtrak, SEPTA, PAT (Pittsburgh), LANTA, CAT, Red Rose, LCTA, CCTA, etc. it would surely be consuming 600 gallons of motor fuel per capita per year, costing $12 billion per year. The Commonwealth Transit program is saving taxpayers and voters $2 BILLION per year on foreign oil.
That is not all. Rail Transit in Philadelphia moves people for about 40 cents per passenger-mile, but autos there cost 66 cents per vehicle-mile (with full accounting of all costs), plus downtown parking fees extra. The passenger-mile cost by auto is 57 cents for commuters as the average occupancy is only 1.15 in rush hour, also causing congestion. Urban buses cost 90 cents per passenger-mile so they must be limited to where transit dependent people really need them. Busses cost far too much because of too many empty seats and high labor costs with low labor productivity.
To get rural help from the Legislature, PenTrans must support basic bus systems but insist on efficiency from them. Pennsylvania moves about 1.4 BILLION passenger-miles a year by rail transit including Amtrak, saving about $350 million a year as compared to having only autos and buses. Total annual dollar savings made possible by transit in Pennsylvania equals $2.35 BILLION per year. To sustain those savings, the Legislature MUST come up with the money to keep transit going. Most other transit systems in the USA get better support than Pennsylvania offers.
Transit in Pennsylvania will also save roughly 16 lives a year that would otherwise be lost on the highways. What are they worth?
Because of suburban sprawl, cities are too impoverished to subsidize transit although many of them do. Pittsburgh does not, but Allegheny County does. Because transit crosses so many county and city lines, the Commonwealth MUST provide most of the funding, but maybe PenTrans should recommend that not more than 75 % should come from the Commonwealth. The local counties and cities should come up with 25 % to make them behave responsibly.
PenTrans needs to advocate for the Schuylkill Valley Metro - not the $ 2 billion plan of SEPTA, but a $ 500 million plan to extend R-2 Regional rail electric trains to Phoenixville with a diesel shuttle from there to Pottstown, Reading and Wyomissing.
Electrification needs to extend from Lansdale to Quakertown and Shelly, with a dedicated LANTA bus connection to Allentown and Bethlehem. There is intercity motor coach service now from Philadelphia to Allentown, but it does not attract enough passengers to matter. To make good time it must skip most potential stops. Only the train can do the job effectively.
The Newtown branch also needs to be restored electrically - from Ayres Crossing (Beth Ayres) to Newtown, using some of the West Trenton peak local trains to divert to Newtown while express service goes to West Trenton. Mid-day locals can be added with no labor cost. The extra service will need no subsidy but it will save foreign oil and boost property values.
Electrification is not expensive. It requires an up front investment, yes, but it saves money year after year and permits better service to attract more passengers and fares. Electric trains save $75 per car-hour compared to diesel trains. They make better time so they save car-hours as well.
Pittsburgh needs a second Amtrak train and an extension of the present one west to Cleveland, with the added one coming back from Cleveland. They would leave New York at 8am and noon, arriving in Pittsburgh at 5pm and 9pm and Cleveland at 8pm. On the return trip they would leave Cleveland at 11am and Pittsburgh at 7:30am and 1:30pm arriving in New York at 4:30pm and 10:30pm.
After 18 months of passenger development these two trains will need no subsidy - but they can't get started without help. The second of the two trains are already running between New York and Harrisburg. Altoona, Johnstown, Greensburg and Pittsburgh need these trains for economic development. State College needs them for low income student mobility. Fullington Bus Service can connect Penn State to the trains at both Lewistown and Tyrone, depending upon which direction the student is going. These Amtrak trains will also mobilize much rural political support for the whole program.
The Legislature is not aware of transit's best advantages. They do not care - yet. All they know is it’s subsidized. The Governor could use some help to educate the Legislature.
Janis Lyman, Grants Coordinator, City of York:
My main concern is in areas that are sprawled out - people aren't going to be able to use transit if they can't get to it. That, to me, is the biggest hurdle. I would like to see some sort of shuttle, car-sharing, or bikes available for use by anybody with the provision of leaving it at another approved location (the term for that escapes me at this time). Maybe "jitneys" could come back into fashion?