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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

State transit solutions: running later than a 54 on the weekend

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2011 at 7:24 PM

Gov. Tom Corbett last week warned that transportation funding isn't his priority for this term. Port Authority CEO Steve Bland, meanwhile, is warning yet again that if the state doesn't act soon, riders can expect more misery.

Last week, Corbett was in town for a Waterways Symposium, and told the Post-Gazette  and Tribune-Review that he "doesn't have a deadline in mind of this year" for addressing statewide transportation issues.

Speaking to reporters after today's Port Authority board meeting, Bland says the governor's comment "gives us not much hope that something will be done in the short term.

"Whether you're Port Authority or other transit agencies," Bland added, "you have to start planning for that eventuality."

Port Authority brass last month presented what it called the "matrix of doom": scenarios for the transit agency based on possible state funding and a new contract with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents Port Authority drivers. Bland announced on Sept. 23 that without contract concessions and help from the state, the agency could face a $64 million operating deficit. That could lead to layoffs, curtailment of night and weekend buses, and the elimination of weekend light-rail service as well as up to 40 routes. The agency is already reeling from previous cuts that reduced service by 15 percent, raised fees and laid off nearly 200 workers.

"If anyone had doubts in March that we were cutting into bone," Bland said at the time, "the next round would be pure amputation."

Frustration about Harrisburg's inaction has been palpable over the last year, and increasingly so after Corbett's remarks last week. Rick Geist, Republican chairman of the House transportation committee, told the Post-Gazette, "The governor put together a commission, and it put forth recommendations and then everything just stopped."

And last week, Republican Jake Corman (R-Centre), announced he will introduce legislation for a funding package, using many of the suggestions from the Governor's own Transportation Funding Advisory Committee Report. The TFAC report identified $2.5 billion in funding suggestions, from merging smaller transit systems to increasing registration and license fees.

In a statement, Corman cited the urgency of the transportation funding situation: "We can't continue to ignore these pressing challenges, which are directly related to public safety and economic development. Now is the time to act -- the evidence is overwhelming and the need is there. The only thing holding us back is political fear."

And while Bland notes that such support indicates "statewide consensus that we have to act sooner rather then later," he cautions that "clearly without the support of the governor it's going to be very difficult."

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