ShareThis Page

Port Authority stabilizes but isn't ready to restore routes

Tom Fontaine
| Sunday, June 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Increased state funding has Port Authority of Allegheny County on solid financial footing for the first time in years, but the agency isn't ready to restore service to communities that lost it during cutbacks three years ago, officials said.

“Many communities have been reeling from the effects of losing their buses, and while we may not be able to fix that problem all at once, taking steps to do so should be Port Authority's and our county's top priority for transit,” said Molly Nichols of the advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

Nichols and several Baldwin Borough residents urged the agency at a meeting on Friday to restore service to the borough's northern section. The former 50 Spencer route was among those cut when Port Authority slashed service by 15 percent in 2011.

MaryAnna Rowsick, 66, said commuting six miles from her home to Downtown takes an average of 90 minutes via transit, including a 1.5-mile walk to the nearest stop for the 51 Carrick.

“It can take even longer when the 51 buses are overcrowded or full, especially during rush hour or school hours,” said Rowsick, who works two part-time jobs in the city.

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

“That has put us in a good position to maintain the service that we have now,” Port Authority Chairman Robert Hurley said.

The authority plans to hire 31 employees and increase the number of buses running on some of the busiest routes. Officials hope that will reduce overcrowding and improve on-time rates. It's looking to add rapid bus service between Downtown and Oakland.

“The next step would be to look at where routes might be able to be restored, but we're not at that point yet,” Hurley said.

That's a significant turnaround for an agency whose recent history has been fraught with cuts, criticism and controversy.

In 2001, it had about 3,100 employees and 235 routes. Today, it has about 2,400 employees and 100 routes. In the same span, the base fare doubled from $1.25 to $2.50.

The most recent cuts were in 2007, when the agency reduced service by 15 percent, and in 2011, when it reduced service by another 15 percent and laid off 180 people.

In March 2012, the authority completed a project that cost more than $500 million to extend light rail service to the North Shore that originally was a $240 million idea; delays plagued the project.

Leaders forced out CEO Steve Bland in 2013 and eliminated another top administrator this year.

In an unprecedented step, the agency went to the Regional Asset District to ask for $3 million in 2012 to help make ends meet and avoid more cuts.

“We were always under constant financial pressure when I was there, so to hear that they are looking to add employees, improve existing service and possibly restore some routes down the road is certainly good news,” said William Millar, who served as Port Authority CEO from 1983 to 1996 and headed the Washington-based American Public Transportation Association.

“It's unusual that we're talking about the same Port Authority,” Millar said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me