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Skybus: Pittsburgh's Failed Industry Targeting Strategy of the 1960s


M. Coleman
D. Houston
E. Muller

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In the 1960's and early 1970's, public and private leaders made a substantial effort to promote Pittsburgh's existing transportation industry as a center for the emerging urban transportation market. The selection of the rapid transit industry for targeting in the 1960's purportedly addressed two issues. Despite national acclaim for its Renaissance redevelopment since World War II, the metropolitan region still needed an effective mass transportation system. Moreover, industrial development efforts had not substantially diversified the region's manufacturing base that still specialized in primary metals.

Operating in the region's Renaissance tradition of a public and private partnership, corporate executives and public officials pursued a three-pronged strategy: build an innovative rapid transportation system for Allegheny County, use it as a showcase for testing and marketing rapid transit hardware of regional corporations, and promote the city as a center of the rapid transportation industry. They settled on Westinghouse's automated, rubber-tired vehicle running on a separate cement guideway, known locally as "Skybus," for the demonstration project and the region's mass transit solution.

The mass transit plan and industry targeting strategy foundered by the early 1970's because leadership weakened in both poles of the partnership. The Westinghouse technology divided the corporate community, while populist political sentiment diminished the ability of the Democratic party's political machine to deliver key public decisions. The Pittsburgh case suggests that a successful industry targeting strategy may depend more on effective leadership and local politics than on the quality of the selection process and vigorous pursuit of traditional economic development programs in support of the targeted industry.