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Port Authority: We'll be ready for this year's Pittsburgh Marathon

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

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Runner Alexis Rzewski got this long reply from Port Authority scheduling guru Chuck Rompala when she wrote to express concerns about poor public transit service at last year's Pittsburgh Marathon:

Rest assured – for 2013, we’re already there!

I have been in contact with the Pittsburgh Marathon as far back as 1997, except for the years when sponsorship was lost and the race was unfortunately suspended, and have been intimate with the workings of the Marathon and their demands upon both our bus, light rail and even incline systems.

Historically, until 2012, demand upon the Port Authority system through all the years noted, was incredibly light. At no time in the past, before 2012 were any of our buses or light rail vehicles in need of adjustment or extra buses or cars needed. In fact, the only extra service I ever requested in years past were two extra “single” light rail vehicles in the Downtown Subway, not due to increased usage, but to provide a greater frequency of service within for all the regular Sunday riders forced off their buses (which could no longer directly access Downtown) at numerous locations by the Marathon course, in order to continue their travel into and out of Downtown without having to wait substantial amounts of time.

Therefore, for 2012, there was no “legacy” from which annual review would have indicated a need to adjust services upwards for the Marathon.

Similarly, event planners for the Pittsburgh Marathon did not request adjustments in service as they did not anticipate heavy demand on our system – that is, until Alco Parking, who had initially denied use of their North Shore lots (because of a 1:35 PM Pittsburgh Pirates game, which also forced the re-route of the Marathon for 2012) did a “re-direct” with mere days left before the event and decided to open their lots for use by Marathon participants and supporters. This allowed the Marathon planners to “market” the use of those lots at that late date – but left us little opportunity to adjust.

However, we did attempt to adjust at that late date as best as possible – by “training” our regular service (coupling two cars together instead of running a single car). This alone increased rail capacity by 100% as the entire Sunday service level was “trained” – but it obviously was not enough. Please note also, that we’re talking “rail only” here – not even the Marathon planners anticipated demand on the bus system to increase; thus none was anticipated – and none was requested.

I want you to know that I have been at “street level” for every marathon since 1999, and in 2012, when word first arrived from both the rail and later the bus system that they were being overwhelmed, calls were made to all divisions (five) to attempt to secure operators for both modes of travel to assist (even our operators already working out there were screaming for assistance). Unfortunately, that weekend, no additional manpower to operate buses or light rail vehicles was available. It also did not help in 2012 that upon the change in status of parking on the North Shore, we had advised Marathon planners that not enough time was available for us to “ramp up” and not to advertise for participants to use mass transit – only for the event planners to hold a press conference that Friday before, and do exactly that.

Please know that as a person that understands the value of mass transportation and as one that has dedicated his life to the same, I have been bothered since 2012’s Marathon Sunday and have taken the situation very personally – and at no time was happy with what transpired.

To that end, I have already met with the event planners for the Pittsburgh Marathon – and meetings will continue as May 5 approaches. It is our understanding that Marathon planners want to model the Pittsburgh Marathon after the “Peachtree” Marathon in Atlanta, where allegedly 70% of marathon participants and their supporters travel to and from the event by public transportation rather than autos. As a transit advocate, I fully support that concept, but have asked the Marathon planners to provide more specifics regarding that event so that I can understand it better and plan for ours.

I can tell you that for 2013, we are already planning on:
· Again, “training” all regularly scheduled light rail service along the entire system;
· Adding two-to-four extra “trains” to augment light rail service (a number that works very well for Pittsburgh Pirates games of similar attendance levels);
· Starting extra light rail services about 1 hour earlier than scheduled services Sunday morning;
· Opening fare booths along the light rail system to expedite movement of trains;
· Adding extra articulated buses on the P1 East Busway All Stops - probably in to Downtown from Wilkinsburg, similar to a weekday P2 operation, allowing for faster turnaround times at both ends, and additional trips on each bus;
· Supplementing articulated high-capacity buses on the 61 & 71 series routes serving eastern neighborhoods (heavy use was experienced here as well, which somewhat befuddles us as the routes cannot access Oakland during the Marathon street closures – and we may also have limitations in doing so as some of the detours forced upon those routes may not allow the use of the larger buses).

We will also be looking at the rest of the system, but are refraining from adjusting service until demographics requested from the Pittsburgh Marathon are provided. While it is our goal to provide the appropriate type of extra service on our system for such events, it is also demanded of us to be efficient in the process to minimize cost outlays, so we don’t want to frivolously add service without justification.

Once provided, if demand warrants, we will attempt to adjust elsewhere in the system as well.
As with any event requiring extra transit service, all plans are ‘manpower contingent’ and their success is dependent on the availability and willingness of the same to serve during each event. As available, we will provide the above and through continued efforts and coordination with Marathon planners, and barring any ‘last minute’ changes in thought processes, will adjust the system as needed, as we are as much interested in making this a success for the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the region, especially when public transportation is desired – which it is now.

I apologize for the length and detail provided here but wanted you to understand all that occurred that resulted in your unfortunate experience last Marathon Sunday and those of many others – and the efforts I am undertaking to correct it for 2013.

I stand committed to do what I can to make this happen, Alexis!

Good luck in 2013!!

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