On a recent Wednesday, Pat Hawkins spent about four hours traveling to and from a 15-minute appointment at Jefferson Regional Medical Center.
At 1:15 p.m., she hopped the 61C from her home in Duquesne to the McKeesport Transportation Center, arriving about 20 minutes later. Once there, she waited until about 2:30 p.m. for the 55 Jefferson. The 65-year-old and her wheelchair arrived at Jefferson Regional shortly after 3 p.m. After getting a blood test to monitor the effects of a blood-thinner, she rolled out of the facility around 3:20. The next bus back to McKeesport was due at 3:55, but Hawkins decided to wait instead for another bus to take her to Wal-Mart in West Mifflin, for groceries.
A proposed 35 percent service reduction by the Port Authority scheduled for March includes elimination of the 55 bus route. Hawkins would lose all access to Jefferson. She could occasionally take ACCESS, a door-to-door transportation service sponsored by Port Authority, but would have to pay out of pocket.
Hawkins receives $600 a month from Social Security. That has to cover rent, utilities, transportation and food (she has a special diet). With such a limited income, Hawkins says it's too expensive to get much more than the $34.95 worth of ACCESS tickets she already purchases. She stretches those across two months.
"There's a lot of things you want that you can't get," she observes. "That's the killin' part of it for me."
She points out there's little room for spontaneity with the transportation service; riders have to call in advance.
As a senior, though, she receives free bus fare. So Hawkins uses the bus for just about everything: medical appointments, church, grocery store, shopping and socializing. "It gives me a chance to meet other people," she explains. "When you're handicapped, you're already down and it's just a depressing thing. The bus is a good way to get out."
But impending bus cuts and fare hikes, she notes, are on most riders' minds. "That's all they're talking about."
Hawkins has an additional worry: Since she relies on the bus so much for lab work, the cuts could also harm her health.
"Only God knows what it'll mean for me," she says, as she waits outside of Jefferson. "I don't know what I'll do. It's no picnic."