Clock begins ticking toward massive Port Authority cuts
By Jeremy Boren
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012, 9:38 p.m.
Updated: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Port Authority of Allegheny County on Friday started the clock on a four-month deadline to avoid making historic cuts its leaders say would permanently ruin the transit system.
The cuts would eliminate 35 percent or 46 of 102 routes, affecting about 40,000 of the bus system's 225,000 daily riders. All but 13 routes would lose service after 10 p.m., and 18 Park 'n' Ride lots would lose bus service.
Dozens of service areas for the ACCESS paratransit system for disabled and elderly riders would be eliminated and service hours would be trimmed.
"It is a dark day indeed for Port Authority," said Guy Mattola, the Port Authority board's vice chairman. "But we have not given up hope. The clock is ticking. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get down to business."
Getting the right combination of union concessions, new state subsidies and advertising revenues is the last hope to blunt the largest cuts in the agency's 48-year history, said officials who approved the 35 percent service reduction set to take effect Sept. 2.
Adding to the pressure, a solution must emerge in time to influence contract negotiations with the agency's largest labor union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85. The union's pact expires June 30.
Port Authority officials said the reductions would necessitate laying off about 500 workers and eliminating another 100 positions that are vacant or are occupied by workers nearing retirement.
"Everyone involved needs to come together, work hard, get creative and find a permanent solution — not a stop-gap solution — so that we can prevent this from occurring year after year," said Port Authority CEO Stephen Bland.
Lucinda Beattie, vice president of transportation at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said employers are focused on finding a way to avoid the cuts and largely haven't started planning contingencies for getting commuters affected by the cuts to work.
UPMC, Alcoa, U.S. Steel and other major employers contacted by the Tribune-Review either could not say or did not know if a plan to help employees who rely on public transit was in the works.
Pat McMahon, the transit union's president, blamed Gov. Tom Corbett and other state politicians for putting the system in "permanent crisis mode" by failing to broker a long-term solution to close a $64 million deficit in the authority's $370.2 million budget.
Corbett has refused repeatedly to bail out the financially strapped system. He is demanding union concessions before offering a state-funded solution.
"We will not even consider any more concessions without guarantees that bring about a sustainable funding stream and job security for 2,300 people directly responsible for driving more than 200,000 people every day to their jobs," McMahon said.
Barring additional funding, the cuts would be the third reduction in a six-year span that has caused the agency to shed about 6.7 million from its annual ridership count. Ridership across the system hit 63.3 million in 2011, down from about 70 million in 2006.
The board approved fare increases of 25 to 50 cents on most remaining routes and lifted a restriction on alcohol advertisements on buses to raise money.
State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said he doubts the state Legislature and the governor's office will be able to pass a statewide transportation funding bill that would address the Port Authority crisis while they work to pass a state budget by the June 30 deadline.
"I'm very concerned we're going to be headed into September without a fix," said Frankel, who has teamed with other Democrats to push a transportation funding bill modeled on recommendations from a Corbett-appointed advisory commission that could generate up to $2.7 billion a year in added transit funding.
Frankel said Corbett should provide a framework for the level of union concessions he's seeking. So far, Corbett hasn't been willing to discuss specifics and said on Thursday that he hoped to address transit funding within the calendar year.
"The damage of the cuts, if they come about, is likely irreversible," Bland said.
Even if the service is somehow restored later, Bland said most riders who lose out likely will not return because commuters lose faith in the system's reliability.
That scenario played out in 2008 when the Metro St. Louis transit system cut service by 30 percent and lost 7 million annual riders over the next two years. Between 1991 and 1992, a 28-day worker strike cost the agency 10 million annual riders.
In a lone bright spot among the cuts, the 28X Airport Flyer route — initially slated for elimination — will be saved thanks to a $1 million federal job access grant.
For more information about the service reductions, visit www.portauthority.org or call 412-442-2000.
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No one wants to see this sort of thing happen but PAT brought it on themselves. High labor costs, high retiree benefits, higher cost for fuel etc. Then the unions say "were not giving concessions unless we get guarantees on sustainable funding for everyone".. Well, my guess is you're not sitting in any sort of position to make threats !! People are tired of subsidizing everything with taxes. If it was a private enterprise operating the transit, don't you think it would sustainable?? Gov't can't run anything without a great deal of waste. I believe concessions are needed and fast. Next step is bankruptcy and then private ownership will take it over. I don't think anyone wants to see the BK because if they do the unions will be forced to give up mostly everything. That's where it's headed !
Submitted by: m on Saturday, April 28, 2012
PAT did it to itself with all the perks that retirees have. I believe they have fully paid health care along with the great pensions. If the unions don't want to make concession unless they are guaranteed a funding stream.. Oh well.. I personally don't utilize the transit system but it's sad to see the beginning of the end. I guess Private enterprise may happen and then everyone who currently has a job won't and if they do they'll see their income drop significantly with private owners. Personally, I don't think gov't should be in any sort of business... It's pretty obvious Gov't isn't successful with trying to run any sort of business. Handwriting is on the wall folks... Time is here, take the concessions or say bye bye to PAT as you now know it ....
Submitted by: Gene on Saturday, April 28, 2012
Tom: Mass transit systems aren't supposed to make money -- they are a public service. So, yes, you are correct that as a rider, I pay approximately 1/2 of the total cost of the ride. No issue with your math either. The problem is with the conclusions you draw which are exactly the kind of short-sighted silliness that will move Pittsburgh wholly out of the "most livable city" index. As a rider of mass transit, I have just as much right to use the highways as folks that drive cars (in fact, I have one). Ever driven on the Parkways? Tried to find a parking spot downtown on a weekday? To the folks that DON'T want to pay for the service because they don't ride -- what exactly do you think will happen when I and the other 100,000 or so weekday works excercise our rights to use the roads and drive to work? Think traffic and parking are bad now? Let's double the traffic and see what things are like then. I would imagine those too cheap and short sighed to pay now would be BEGGING to pay about $5 a week to eliminate the 5 or more hours of congestion they will experience in the added traffic. With gas at $4/gallon, complaints about a $5/week subsidy to bus riders demonstrate nothing but ignorance -- exactly how much gas do you think you'll waste sitting in the traffic that I and the other 100,000 riders will make when we are forced to drive. TO THOSE TOO CHEAP TO PAY -- WHY NOT THINK ABOUT IT BEFORE YOU COMPLAIN???
Submitted by: Tom on Saturday, April 28, 2012
Calculator anyone? $370,000,000 budget divided by 63,000,000 riders = $5.87 per rider boarding a bus one way. The Largest fare collected ( 2 zones-full price) is $3.25. Many riders pay 1/2 fare or travel one zone. Taxpayer subsidy "minimum" per ride is over 50% on average fare collected. Yes, between your liquid fuels tax you pay at the pump, County "drink tax" and your other taxes paid, YOU are paying for more than 1/2 of the rider cost even if you have never been to Allegheny County. More fun math? 2300 employees working 49 weeks a year, 5 days per week, 8 hours per day is 4,508,000 hours. Divide RIDERS by HOURS and each employee accounts for moving only 14 riders per hour worked, be they drivers, mechanics, or support staff. You can spell Port Authority B_R_O_K_E_N. I do not personally think service cuts are the answer, given the choice I would pay $2 more per trip in fares rather than loose my route.
Submitted by: john on Saturday, April 28, 2012
Instead of screaming at Corbett to come up with more State money(read gas tax inrease), Allegheny County should increase their "poured drink tax". Those of us that live in rural areas pay more than enough for PAT & SEPTA, Gov't black holes that we never benefit from.