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Friday, January 27, 2012

Port Authority takes first step toward massive service cuts

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 12:22 PM

The Port Authority of Allegheny County took the first step down the path to service cuts today, formally approving a public-comment period.

Meanwhile, about 50 people demonstrated outside of the transit agency's Downtown offices today, decrying a proposed 35 percent service reduction that would eliminate 46 bus routes, reduce remaining lines, hike fares and layoff up to 500. Port Authority has proposed the plan as a result of a $64 million budget deficit due to a lack of state funding. The agency cut service by 15 percent last year.

"A 35 percent cut? We might as well not even have transit," said Patrick McMahon, president of Amalgamated Transit Unit (ATU) Local 85, which represents Port Authority operators and mechanics.

The Port Authority, ATU and riders largely pointed to a lack of effort by the state to develop an adequate package for funding transportation across Pennsylvania, from roads to bridges and mass transit. They encouraged the public to lobby legislators and Gov. Tom Corbett's office.

Board members today said they opposed the cuts, but had no other choice.

"We have to plan for the worst, and this is the worst," said board member Guy Mattola. "Cutting 35 percent ... is shameful and a crushing blow to the region's transportation network."

Riders and the authority are trying to drum up support for a package of bills currently pending in State House and Senate that mirror recommendations made my Gov. Tom Corbett's own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission last August.

"We absolutely don't want to make any further reduction in service," said Port Authority CEO Steve Bland. "There are still ways to avoid the cuts. We need a solution from the state."

Corbett has said little publicly and is expected to address it in his February budget address.

"Democrats don't want [the cuts]. Republican legislators definitely think there should be a funding solution," McMahon said. "The governor right now seems to be the one who's holding everything back by refusing to act."

During the board meeting, protesters marched to Gov. Corbett's Downtown office with a pair of shoes. McMahon said that Corbett's stance means "transit riders better get a near pair of sneakers, because they're not going to be able to get the bus."

Public comments will be accepted from Feb. 5 through March 9, and can be submitted online at www.portauthority.org, or by mail to: Port Authority Fare & Service Proposals, Heinz 57 Center, 345 Sixth Ave., Floor 3, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-2527. A public hearing will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 29, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. Individuals wishing to testify may pre-register by calling 412-566-5437.

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