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Port Authority improvements don't go far enough, advocates say

| Friday, May 27, 2016, 2:27 p.m.

Public transit advocates want Port Authority of Allegheny County to increase services beyond improvements to bus routes in Garfield and Penn Hills.

Residents and community groups who spoke before authority board members during a meeting Friday mostly applauded the $1.3 million in added services expected to start this fall. But they also said the agency needs to do more to serve areas that lost bus access when the then-financially fragile authority cut routes in 2007 and 2011.

Several speakers, including Ross Township resident Fran Lange, 64, called for better service along Perry Highway. They offered to help authority officials find funding for such improvements.

“I am quite good at writing letters, and I have no problem pressuring state reps or state senators or whoever I can,” Lange said.

Jonathan Robison of Squirrel Hill, 73, echoed the advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit's call to seek financial assistance from corporations and landholders.

Molly Nichols, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said authority officials and transit supporters should push the county's executive office and council to release some portion of $16 million in drink taxes and put it toward authority operations.

Authority CEO Ellen McLean said service expansions require a sustained funding source, not one-time cash infusions. She said drink tax funding is better used as a local match for state and federal grants that could pay for long-term capital projects, such as acquiring property for a new bus garage or a network of park-and-ride lots.

The authority in the meantime needs to focus on its financial health and providing current services in the most effective way possible, she said.

“We need to be the excellent transit agency we've set out to be,” she said.

Authority board members are scheduled to vote on their 2017 budget in June. The $413 million budget, if approved in its current form, will restart weekend service on 89 Garfield Commons, extend 79 East Hills to Lincoln Loop via Mt. Carmel Road on weekdays and weekends, and offer more weekday service on 79 East Hills using the P17 Lincoln Park Flyer.

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5627 or mwalton@tribweb.com.

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