Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Routeless: Massive Port Authority cuts may be in the offing

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 10:08 AM

In May, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland said potential budget woes could lead to "draconian" cuts in service. That time may be here. The Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to roll out today a proposal for system-wide cuts. If approved, the cuts would go into effect in January, and would make up for a $47.1 million shortfall.

"It's going to be drastic," says spokesman Jim Ritchie. He says the proposal will affect every route in the system and leave 55 neighborhoods with eliminated or severely reduced service.

The cuts will result in a 35 percent service reduction in bus and light rail service. More than 50 routes will be eliminated, including event services to Steelers' games; the 1F to Millvale; 41G to Dormont; 65 to Squirrel Hill; and the 77A to Oakland Others will lose weekend service, like the 6A Troy Hill and neighborhoods like Lincoln-Lemington and Homestead. Others, like the EBA, will see reductions in weekday and weekend service.

Among the neighborhoods that could see a total service loss are: Banksville, White Oak, the Beechwood Boulevard corridor in Squirrel Hill; Marshall-Shadeland; Franklin Park; Edgewood Town Center; Garden City in Monroeville; and parts of Mount Lebanon around Cedar Boulevard and Old Farm Road.

Base rates for urban and suburban routes, and transfer, will increase by a quarter. The agency is also considering a "premium price" of $4 for express and flyer routes in suburban areas.

In terms of staffing, Ritchie says between 300-500 employees from union-represented operators and maintenance workers to non-represented employees could be laid off.

The plan goes before the Port Authority planning and development committee today then onto the full board on Friday. If approved, the agency will undergo a public hearing process required by law. The changes are slated for January.

PAT officials point to the rejection of a plan to toll Intestate 80 -- revenue already included in Act 44, the state law establishing funding for transit projects -- for the budget shortfall. And even with all of the proposed changes, Ritchie says the plan, at best, is a one-year fix.

"The problem for us isn't the expense of operating the system," Ritchie say. "The problem is the state didn't come through with transit funding established under state law."

Ritchie says agency brass are working with local legislators to re-establish state funding, and transit activists like Jonathan Robison are encouraging riders to contact their own local representatives. Robison fears that if state money doesn't come through and even more cuts come down the pike, "this could mean the end of the Port Authority as we know it."



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