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Allegheny County, the Port Authority and the leadership of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 85 have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that could be the key to avoiding a 35 percent service reduction and 560 employee layoffs.

Beyond a brief statement issued by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, none of the parties are talking, and won’t until after the rank and file union members vote on the deal Aug. 19.

The statement read:

“The Port Authority, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 and the county have reached a tentative contract agreement. If approved, the agreement is the first step in preventing the 35 percent service cuts, resulting layoffs and Collier Division/park-and-ride closures scheduled to take effect in September. That agreement will be considered by the Local 85 membership on August 19 and the Port Authority Board, which will meet in the days following the union vote. Once those votes occur, we will be at liberty to share more.”

The deal, which would cover all 2,300 of the ATW drivers, maintenance, supervisors, office and support staff, calls for substantial concessions in an effort to close a $64 million budget deficit.

A fare increase went into effect in July, but without deeper cuts, Gov. Tom Corbett said he would not provide any temporary help. His office has a draft of the proposed deal, but beyond saying they are “encouraged” by the progress, like everyone else, will not comment until after the union vote.

Though no details on the tentative contract concessions are available, Fitzgerald has said a vote approving the deal could prompt Harrisburg to deliver up to $35 million.

It is not a guarantee, but without such a vote, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland can pretty much guarantee the beginning of the end of public transportation in the area.

As he has countless times since taking over in 2006, Bland said the authority can only cut so much before it enters a “death spiral” of ever increasing fares, service cuts and decreasing ridership.

Coupled with the 15 percent cut in service in 2011, on Sept. 2, the 35 percent cut would eliminate 46 of PAT’s remaining 102 routes and reduce ride frequency on the others. Suburbs north and west of the city; McKees Rocks, Robinson Township, Coraopolis, Avalon, Sewickley, Cranberry, would lose all service. Cuts to routes east of the city; serving McKeesport, Clairton, Penn Hills, would result, Bland said, in 1,000 extra cars on the Parkway East every day.

There was, however, some related good news from the authority when it announced the deep reductions to senior ACCESS service, also scheduled to begin Sept. 2, has been averted thanks to $3.65 million in federal and state matching funds. The money will keep the program going one year.

A long-term funding solution for public transit and infrastructure, like the $2.7 billion in new taxes and fees recommended by Gov. Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission still awaits legislative action in Harrisburg.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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