With a projected $52 million 2011 budget deficit looming for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Executive Director Steve Bland says fare increases and large service cuts are unavoidable unless new state funding is authorized.

“We need something, anything that is a broad-based source that follows the economy,” he said.

On source of funding was to have been revenue from turning I-80 into a toll road. State budgets were approved with these monies allocated for PAT even though the Federal Highway Administration indicated it would not approve the change. In April it denied the state’s tolling application.

On July 21, Bland sent proposals for service cuts and fare increases to  the authority board’s Planning and Development Committee. The full board will make decisions on both July 23. Public comment would be taken between July 28 and Aug. 31, including an Aug. 19 public hearing at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The proposed cuts, which would go into effect Jan. 9, 2011would result in an overall 35 percent reduction in service, including:

•The elimination of more than 50 routes (specific routes were unavailable at Courier deadline);

•The elimination of weekend service on some additional routes, and

•Reduced trip frequency and scope of service on all remaining routes.

The authority would also increase fares $.25 as of Jan.1,  2011. Transfers would also increase from $.75 to $1, and passes would increase accordingly.  Some flyer and express routes, as well as all T service, could see premium pricing of $4.

“We’ve cut a lot of fat in the system since 2007,” said Bland. “But this is starting to cut to the bone. With this, about 55 communities would lose most, if not all service.”

Bland noted that the authority typically had “funding crises” every three or four years. The last time, Gov. Edward G. Rendell “flexed” some regional highway funds to cover public transit funding gaps. Those funds are not now available.

Rendell has now proposed a 10 percent increase in the state’s gasoline tax, plus increases in fees for driver’s licenses, car and commercial truck registrations, vehicle titles, inspection stickers, and driver information requests. He estimated the tax and fee increases would yield $472 million in annual revenue for public transit and highways.

However, with half of the state house up for reelection, and with a lame-duck Governor, the likelihood of passing new tax legislation is remote.

“There is also the Marcellus Shale,” said Bland. “We could get some of the extraction taxes there, but everyone is trying to get a piece of that. We really don’t care where it comes from, but we need something that is dedicated, broad-based if we are to avoid these cuts.”

These potential service reductions come just as Mayor Luke Ravenstahl contemplates action that would almost certainly increase PAT ridership—the 50-year lease of all city parking lots and metered spaces to a private vendor so the proceeds could be used to forestall a state takeover of the city’s underfunded pension plans.

Though no firm figures are available, estimates are that parking rates could double, causing more commuters to use public transportation. City council has scheduled four public meetings on the parking issue for July 26, July 27, July 29 and Aug. 1.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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