PAT approves 15 percent service cut

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Effective March 29, the Port Authority of Allegheny County will cut 29 of its 129 remaining routes and reduce service on 37 others in what CEO Steve Bland said was an attempt to give incoming Gov. Tom Corbett and new legislators more time to find a funding solution for its continuing budget deficits.

The board approved the reduction Jan. 12, saying it would extend the need for the drastic 37 percent cuts it had planned for an additional six months beyond the June 30 end of the fiscal year. In addition to the service cuts, 260 jobs will be eliminated and the Harmar garage will close.

The original proposal would have eliminated 47 routes and 500 jobs.

Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said the solution was “hardly ideal.”

“One of the reasons for our proposal to stretch the money out is that we don’t think there is a solution on the immediate horizon,” he said. “It saves service that was on the chopping block.”

Though the smaller cuts were made possible by former Gov. Ed Rendell “flexing” $45 million in highway funds, representatives of PAT and the Amalgamated Transit Union blamed the crisis on state officials failing to find an adequate funding solution for mass transit.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, who has been working to restore some previously trimmed service to Hill and North Side residents, said the criticism isn’t entirely unjustified.

“We have, over the last eight years done a great disservice to the populations we represent in that we haven’t figured out a mechanism to fund highways and transit,” he said. “But in a recession people don’t want to see constant tax raises.”

On the other hand, Wheatley said, the state did allow Allegheny County to impose a poured-drink tax and to increase its rental-car tax to raise enough money to qualify for state matching funds, and the Governor stepped in numerous times with emergency funding.

“With the state facing a $4 billion deficit, and the new administration saying they want no new taxes and spending cuts, we have to look at how citizens who need them most get the services,” he said. “I’m open to finding any legitimate way to support a viable transit system. These cuts are here, but to allow it to just erode over time is a major problem.”

The changes will affect service on two Hill District routes. The 83 Webster will see reductions on weekdays, and in Saturdays and Sunday service.  The 82 Lincoln will see reduced weekday service, but no Saturday change. Sunday service will actually increase.

In the last decades, PAT’s basic fare has increased from $1.25 to $2.25, and service has been trimmed 34 percent.

Former Allegheny County executive Jim Roddey, who headed up Corbett’s transportation transition team, has submitted a report to the governor based on meetings with officials from Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Port Authority, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Pittsburgh International Airport and the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

“We have to find extra revenue without raising taxes,” he said.

Corbett’s Chief of Staff Kevin Harley said, other than new taxes, everything is on the table.

“We’ve got to be creative in finding ways to address the transportation funding crisis. It’s an enormously expensive task. It will be a priority,” he said.

For the complete schedule of March changes visit http://www.portauthority.org.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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