What Would Happen If the Port Authority Shut Down?
Either scenario would mean a shutdown in most public transit services in Allegheny County. As reported in the newspapers, the business community is discussing plans for dealing with such a shutdown.
So what would actually happen if the Port Authority did shut down?
A detailed study was done by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to determine what happened during the Port Authority transit union strike that occurred in 1976. That strike only lasted five days (in contrast to the 1992 strike, which lasted 28 days), but three of those days were weekdays, so it provided a reasonable test of how people would be affected. (The effects of the strike were compounded by the weather – the strike occurred in early December, and the temperatures ranged between 10 and 30 degrees (Farenheit) with strong winds and snow flurries.)
The study found that morning rush hour traffic increased by 35-45% on all routes, and the rush hour lasted longer than normal, though not dramatically so. Parking garages downtown were filled earlier than usual, and while parking increased at parking lots on the North Shore, those lots were not filled (the cold weather may partially explain the reluctance to use distant parking lots).
A telephone survey of commuters showed that 13% of the people who normally took the bus or a trolley into Downtown did not go to work at all. The largest percentage (37%) were dropped off at work by someone else (likely a spouse, but possibly a "courtesy ride" -- see below), another 28% carpooled, 10% drove alone, and 12% used other means (e.g., walking).
Of those who normally drove alone to work Downtown, 74% continued to do so, but 20% carpooled (presumably giving rides to the 28% of transit users who carpooled during the strike). Interestingly, only 46% said their trip took longer, but 65% said they had an earlier departure time.
The results were similar for people who normally took the bus to work, but who worked somewhere other than Downtown: 12% didn’t go to work at all, 41% were dropped off by someone else, 18% carpooled, 8% drove alone, and 19% used other means to get to work. 90% of those who ordinarily drove alone to a non-Downtown workplace continued to do so, only 2% carpooled, and only 25% said they had a longer trip time. The significantly lower rates of carpooling presumably reflect the greater difficulty of finding someone to carpool with from home to a non-Downtown location.
The most dramatic impacts were on those individuals who did not commute to work daily, but used transit regularly for other purposes. Many of these individuals are “transit captive,” i.e., transit is their only means of transportation. A separate survey of these individuals showed that 53% were over age 55 (in contrast to 14% of the commuters), and 40% had no car in the family. 63% reported that they did not make any of their normal trips during the strike. Over half of those who did travel during the strike rode with someone else by prior arrangement, and another 20% drove themselves.
The community did organize a strike contingency program, including (1) encouraging ride-sharing through a computerized matching program, (2) creating a “courtesy ride” program, which was, in effect, an organized hitchhiking program with designated pickup stations, (3) imposing a requirement on city employees who commuted in a city-owned car to carry at least five other persons, (4) distributing maps showing the locations of peripheral parking lots, and (5) encouraging employers to allow more flexible work hours.
The Courtesy Ride program was the most significant initiative. 88% of both drivers and non-drivers who commuted Downtown said they were aware of the Courtesy Ride program. 41% of the Downtown drivers who were aware of the program said they gave someone a ride. Only 23% of the people who commuted Downtown, who did not drive, and who were aware of the program tried to get a ride this way, but 79% of those who did were successful.
From the employers’ perspective, the biggest impact may have been the 12-13% of former bus riders who did not go to work at all. This was over 30 years ago, of course, so the opportunities for telecommuting were much more limited; today, many more workers might be able to feasibly work from home, and so the percentage who would stay home would increase dramatically. On the other hand, 30 years ago, there may also have been more spouses able to drop off a commuter at work than there are today and more people willing to pick up a stranger in a courtesy ride program, so the ability of bus riders to be dropped off may be much lower today.
Overall, from most employees’ perspectives, their commute was likely longer or more challenging, but they got to work one way or the other. Those who depended completely on transit for work, medical appointments, or shopping and had no opportunities for carpooling or being dropped off would likely have suffered the most from the strike. The longer the strike, the more severe these impacts would be. It would seem appropriate that any contingency planning for a possible Port Authority shutdown this year should focus on these individuals.