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Baldwin riders protest for more South Hills bus routes

Jason Cato
| Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, 2:42 p.m.
Tim Gaughan, 56, of Whitehall (in front) participates Saturday in a rally to restore bus service to Baldwin and other South Hills communities. He and other demonstrators held signs depicting a bus with the message “More transit, not less.”
Photo credit: Jason Cato
Jason Cato | Trib Total Media
Tim Gaughan, 56, of Whitehall (in front) participates Saturday in a rally to restore bus service to Baldwin and other South Hills communities. He and other demonstrators held signs depicting a bus with the message “More transit, not less.” Photo credit: Jason Cato

More than 100 people turned out Saturday for a march and rally in Baldwin to persuade the Port Authority to restore slashed bus services.

“If you live in the South Hills, you know there are a lot of hills,” said North Baldwin resident Terry Breisinger, 50, who said he walks a mile to and from his house to the nearest bus stop to get to his Uptown job as a physical therapist. “It's up and down. I go uphill both ways.”

Port Authority in 2011 cut four bus routes that served the area as part of cost-saving measures.

“We understand what they had to do. That's water under the bridge,” said Breisinger, a member of the local grassroots group, Buses for Baldwin. “But it's 2014.”

A state law passed last year to boost funding for transportation across Pennsylvania is expected to provide $557 million more for Port Authority during the next five years, including $91 million for operating expenses and capital improvements this fiscal year.

A provision in the law, known as Act 89, prevents the Port Authority from restoring old routes or establishing new ones, said Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie.

“There are several areas within Allegheny County with transit needs, and we consistently hear from communities, riders, businesses and others who very much want Port Authority to restore service,” Ritchie said. “Baldwin is among those communities that want more service.”

Additional funding is available through a county drink tax that could be used to expand some existing routes to select communities, said Molly Nichols of the advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

“This is a public transit desert,” Nichols said.

Port Authority officials have met with Baldwin residents and Pittsburghers for Public Transit at least three times, Ritchie said.

“There's simply not enough money,” he said. “It's important now that we collectively move forward in a way that best sustains our system and attracts new riders.”

Some Baldwin residents have to walk as far as 2 miles to get to a bus stop, while signs for the four routes eliminated three years ago still hang along borough streets.

“It just adds insult to injury,” Breisinger said.

In 2001, the Port Authority had 235 routes. Today, it has 102. The agency reduced service by 15 percent in 2007 and 2011.

“We understand they cannot restore every route in the system,” Nichols said. “But that doesn't mean they cannot restore some.”

Organizers said they could present a petition with more than 1,000 names to the Port Authority at its board meeting this month.

“We've been talking with this community and will continue to look for possibilities that improve access to transit and generate ridership within the system,” Ritchie said.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936.

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