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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Port Authority board approves service cuts

Posted By on Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 8:58 AM

The Port Authority amended its service reduction plan slated for March and will only cut 15 percent of its bus and light-rail service.

The agency expects to lose 13,000 riders due to the cuts, which are scheduled for March 27. The agency will eliminate 270 positions and expects about 180 of those as layoffs. The Harmar operating garage will close.

Among the neighborhoods that will lose total service are Franklin Park, Glassport, Groveton, Hampton, Homeville, Indiana, Liberty, Marshall, Natrona, Port Vue, Wall and White Oak. Others will face loss of weekend service or reduction of some weekday service.

Bland said that the agency will increase some other routes -- like the 01 Ross PNR Flyer or 61B Braddock-Swissvale -- to cover areas that may face a route elimination.

Riders and the transit agency had been bracing for worse: a 35 percent cut that would have eliminated about 47 routes, laid off 500 and closed two operating divisions. But after outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell came through with a last-minute $45 million in unspent economic development funds, the transit agency’s board has decided to stretch the money through July 12 in hopes of avoiding any further cuts.

"[The board] took the least bad of two very bad alternatives. They did the right thing," said Steve Bland, Port Authority CEO, after the meeting. "A 15 percent reduction is bad; a 35 percent reduction would have been catastrophic."

Before the vote, rider advocates and members of the Amalgated Transit Union -- which represents operators, mechanics and other PAT employees -- asked the board to hold off on any cuts altogether.

The cut "will of course harm transit riders," said Jonathan Robison, president of the Allegheny County Transit Council, an advocacy group that advises PAT. "It is also contrary to the intent of then Governor Ed Rendell, who directed the transfer. Transit cuts are exactly what he intended to prevent."

Robison said he feared that simply reducing the cuts -- rather than operating as a whole system for as long as it could -- combined with an inaction at the state level to fund mass transit, then "substantial cuts in service will be unavoidable."

"There is no need to cut any service, close any garages or lay off any workers," argued Patrick McMahon, president of the ATU. "Stringing out the money for the next 18 months is a significant mistake."

Board members said they did not take the decision lightly. In providing the money, Rendell hoped to buy incoming Gov.-elect Tom Corbett and lawmakers time to find a permanent funding solution. Board member Guy Mattola said the governor’s money only provided "a bit more breathing room" -- and stretching the funding out for another year delayed catastrophic cuts even further. He outlined two options for the board: reduce the cuts to 15 percent and use the $45 million until next year, or postpone the effective date for the 35 percent service reduction until this July 17.

"The decision rests on whether we feel [lawmakers] can find a funding solution before July."

"Fifteen percent service cut is not desirable or recommended," he acknowledged. "We are past the point of cutting service for efficiency."

Board member Richard Taylor asked that the agency make known the cuts are temporary and that service will be re-instated when funding is in place. "I don’t want anyone to mistake that the community live at this level of service."

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