No progress in PAT budget fix

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With just over a month until the Port Authority of Allegheny County institutes a fare increase that will raise one-zone fares $.25 and two-zone fares $.50, and just over another three months until it cuts 35 percent of its current service, there has been no movement at the state level to fill the projected $64 million budget deficit.

The fare increase will happen even if the service cut is averted. If it is not, 40 routes will cease service on Sept. 2, most of them zone two routes. Gone will be service to Ambridge, Coraopolis, Robinson, Penn Hills and job centers including Monroeville, Robinson, Cranberry, Homestead and the Waterfront.

The few remaining routes, including red line and blue line rail service, will see reductions. The Authority estimates it will lose 40,000 riders a day. The cuts would also include eliminating 500 jobs. The terminations would come when the authority is seeking to recall furloughed workers to address personnel shortages on the T.

Governor Tom Corbett has said he will not commit additional funding without major cost reductions made by management and union operators.

Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said the Authority, the County Controller’s Office, the governor’s office and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 have had “positive” talks, but have yet to determine what, if any, support the government might give for a Port Authority bailout. He would not say a compromise level of state support might be.

Rather than continuing to bail out the authority, Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg put forth legislation last week that they said would prompt cost reductions. House Bill 10 would end PAT’s monopoly on public transit in the county. Sponsor Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said allowing competition could spur the authority and its unions to find their own cooperative budget solutions.

“We’re allowing the competition to provide better transportation in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Outgoing state Rep. Joseph Preston, D-East Liberty, said either way, the state still has to contribute, and he and his colleagues bear part of the blame.

“We’re part of the problem,” he said. “We haven’t done anything.”

Though allowing other carriers to operate in the county could be a first step toward forming a regional transit entity like the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, there is no state legislation pending that would authorize such an agency.

Other than waiting for the Governor to authorize additional funding, PAT could see additional revenue from expanded advertizing. In April, the authority board approved expanding its pool of potential advertisers to include, among others, liquor distillers.

PAT CEO Steve Bland said it could provide an uptick in revenue, he said advertizing currently provides only about $1 million in annual income.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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