Port Authority votes to cut jobs, routes in fall
By Tom Fontaine
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012, 11:40 a.m.
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Port Authority of Allegheny County's board on Friday adopted a $333.1 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year that formalizes the previously announced fare increase and sweeping service and job cuts.
The agency on July 1 will raise Zone 1 fares by 25 cents to $2.50 and Zone 2 fares by 50 cents to $3.75. In September, it plans to reduce service by 35 percent and eliminate 560 positions.
The measures are designed to erase a $64 million deficit. Officials hold out hope for state help to avoid the cuts in September.
“We still have the opportunity to avert the service reductions,” CEO Steve Bland said before the unanimous vote.
Port Authority management is negotiating a new contract with the transit agency's largest labor union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85. The current pact expires June 30.
Bland said state officials have indicated they won't move to increase funding to the cash-strapped agency until it obtains major concessions from the union — including savings on future retirees' health-care and pension costs, which make up about one-fifth of the budget. The state provides about 45 percent of the agency's operating money.
“We know that there's a problem,” said Local 85 President-elect Steve Palonis, who takes office July 1 but is heading contract talks on behalf of the union. “We're working feverishly to come up with a contract that we can live with and that can be ratified by our members.”
The contract talks have resulted in a wave of retirements in recent months as workers take benefits that they believe will be more generous than what the next contract might guarantee. About 135 workers retired this year, straining the agency's ability to provide adequate service.
Bland said he is concerned about the impact of layoff notices that management will distribute to workers on July 2. Although layoffs aren't scheduled until Sept. 2, he said: “It's unrealistic to expect all of the workers to hang in there through then.”
Port Authority officials and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that two of the 13 light-rail stops that had been scheduled for elimination on Monday — Smith Road in Castle Shannon and Sandy Creek in Bethel Park — will remain open permanently. The 11 other stops will close as planned.
“Those two stops are remaining open because there are safety concerns that were evident from on-site visits,” said Amie Downs, a Fitzgerald spokeswoman.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at (412) 320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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