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Public transit supporters march in protest

| Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

About 30 protesters braved frigid temperatures to march from Mellon Square about a block to the Heinz 57 Center, the site of this morning's Port Authority meeting, where the board could vote to cut services and raise fares.

The nine members of the Port Authority board will decide how to deal with an anticipated $30 million deficit in the budget. In recent weeks, the authority has unveiled plans to eliminate some or all night and weekend service and raise fares from $1.75 to $2.50. However, a board committee recommended Monday that the Port Authority make no changes to fares, service or staff levels, banking on state lawmakers to approve financial help.

That help would have to come by March, which is when the Port Authority estimates it will run out of cash.

Stephen Donahue, chairman of public transit advocacy group Save Our Transit, shivered while shouting through a bullhorn to the marchers this morning.

"All of (the options) mean death for public transportation, whether it's a quick death, as early as March, or in a year or two," he said.

Donahue and others blamed legislators for their inability to find funding solutions.

"Public transportation nationwide is in big trouble because the support of public officials is not there," Donahue said.

Stu Strickland of McCandless said he began advocating for public transit in the early 1990s when the Port Authority started to make cuts.

"I never thought I'd still have to be doing this," he said.

The protesters passed out leaflets on their way to the meeting, and made sure to hand them to people getting off buses.

The packed meeting room began with public comment being offered before the board votes.

The board could vote to:

  • Keep some night and weekend service. The board would raise fares to $2.50, cut 68 weekday routes and lay off 500 employees. It would keep 34 Saturday routes, 24 Sunday routes and 23 evening routes. ACCESS service for elderly and disabled riders wouldn't be cut. The Port Authority estimates this plan would save $45.6 million, but cost it 5.4 million riders.

  • Approve its worst-case scenario. The board would raise fares to $2.50, cut 70 weekday routes, cut all 100 routes after 9 p.m., eliminate all weekend service and lay off 525 employees. The cuts would apply to bus, light rail and ACCESS routes. The Port Authority projects savings of $45.6 million and losing 11.8 million riders.

  • Do nothing and hope for a state bailout by March.

    The Port Authority now gets a $121 million state subsidy for its annual $288 million budget. It is asking the Legislature to provide a dependable source of money for the two transit agencies in Pennsylvania.

    Republican legislative leaders, who control the House and Senate, said it's likely mass transit will be included in a broader package that would include more money for highways and bridges, possibly through a gasoline tax increase. Lawmakers intend to address the issue next month.

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