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Commuters in 'transit deserts' call for renewed Port Authority bus service

| Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014, 9:18 p.m.
The Nittany Lion shuttle discharges and picks up passengers at the McKeesport Transportation Center, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The shuttle provides transportation for Penn State Greater Allegheny students.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
The Nittany Lion shuttle discharges and picks up passengers at the McKeesport Transportation Center, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The shuttle provides transportation for Penn State Greater Allegheny students.
The Nittany Lion shuttle pulls up to the McKeesport Transportation Center, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The shuttle provides transportation for Penn State Greater Allegheny students.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
The Nittany Lion shuttle pulls up to the McKeesport Transportation Center, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The shuttle provides transportation for Penn State Greater Allegheny students.
A packed parking lot greets commuters to the CCAC North lot Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The college is lobbying the Port Authority for bus service as there are currently no routes connecting the campus.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
A packed parking lot greets commuters to the CCAC North lot Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The college is lobbying the Port Authority for bus service as there are currently no routes connecting the campus.
A packed parking lot greets commuters to the CCAC North lot Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The college is lobbying the Port Authority for bus service as there are  no routes connecting the campus.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
A packed parking lot greets commuters to the CCAC North lot Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The college is lobbying the Port Authority for bus service as there are no routes connecting the campus.

Dennis Donahoe understands growing older, but he doesn't understand why the Port Authority of Allegheny County doesn't have bus service within a reasonable distance from his Baldwin apartment.

“It's actually two miles to the closest stop from my complex,” said Donahoe, 63, who is retired. “If you're able-bodied, you can overcome that. It shouldn't be a crime to be older. It's kind of insulting when neighborhoods farther away have service.”

Donahoe and his neighbors are not alone. The latest round of authority transit cuts in 2011 left several parts of Allegheny County without service, including Baldwin, and large swaths of the north and west suburbs.

But now that the state's new transportation law has helped put the authority on more stable financial footing, groups are calling for a return of bus service into the “transit deserts.”

Community College of Allegheny County and Penn State Greater Alle­gheny in McKeesport have asked Port Authority in recent months for service to their campuses. CCAC North campus in McCandless, for example, has not had service for about three years.

“CCAC has approached Port Authority to discuss the possibility of restoring service to the North campus, as well as expanding service to the South campus in West Mifflin and improving service to the West Hills Center in Oakdale,” said Elizabeth Johnston, CCAC spokeswoman. “Discussions are ongoing.”

Port Authority officials say they understand riders' concerns, but state Act 89 funding only provided enough funds to shore up existing service and cannot support extensive additions to routes. Authority officials did not rule out tweaking some routes next year.

“We put a little service on where we could in this fiscal year — a 2.7 percent increase in service hours, which was a little over $4 million,” CEO Ellen McLean said.

“We think we can accommodate that. That's for overcrowding and some efficiencies we thought we could gain at a lower cost.”

Routes in several areas were enhanced, including Oakland and Squirrel Hill. Port Authority officials hope to consider addressing more transit needs next fiscal year, she said.

“But this is not going to be replacing every route,” McLean said. “It is not going to be riding through every neighborhood. It's going to be a modern look at efficient service where we can do it, and we have to do it within budget.”

Penn State Greater Alle­gheny officials asked Port Authority board members in September to extend an existing McKeesport route to the campus, offering a campus parking lot as a park-and-ride or a layover stop for drivers. The school had service previously.

“We run a shuttle and pick up students” from Port Authority's last stop, about 2.5 miles away, Penn State Greater Allegheny spokeswoman Linda Curinga said.

“We proposed that Port Authority have their layover on our campus. It would be helpful to our students because they would have a more direct route to campus.”

In Baldwin, some residents have signed petitions to prod Port Authority's board. Baldwin transit supporters also have spoken at Port Authority meetings.

Terry Breisinger, one of the more vocal residents, said he has to hike about a mile from his Baldwin Borough home to catch the closest Port Authority bus to work.

“I have to go down a hill and then up again to the stop, so it really is uphill both ways,” said Breisinger, 50. “We are the largest area this close to Downtown without service.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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