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Port Authority hears public cries on fare hikes

| Saturday, June 15, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

Two days after commuters and social service providers pleaded with them at a public hearing, Port Authority officials are rethinking some features of their proposed fare increase. But the less fares go up, the more likely still deeper service cuts are in store, the head of the transit agency said Friday.

"I think the challenge here is to agree on a proposal that blends the fare proposal and the service reductions," Chief Executive Paul Skoutelas said.

The authority is expected to choose by month's end between two fare increase options — one of which would increase the $1.60 base fare to $1.75, the other to $2 — and decide whether to eliminate 14 of its 230 bus routes as of Sept. 1. Port Authority officials say a shortfall in state funding has left them $10 million in the hole and made costlier fares and reduced service unavoidable.

But with no extra state funding in sight and the authority ending the fiscal year in the red for the first time in 18 years, adopting the lesser of the two increase plans could force the authority to cut even more routes, Skoutelas said.

Skoutelas confirmed for the first time yesterday that the transit agency will likely keep selling its 10-trip ticket books and weekly and annual passes, although they probably will no longer be discounted. The final decision, however, will be made by the authority's governing board at its June 28 meeting.

"The board, given what it's heard, is going to rethink the tickets, obviously, and probably the annual passes and the weekly passes," Skoutelas said. "But I think the likelihood is that if they're kept, the discount would be less."

Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey, who spoke out on behalf of saving the tickets at Wednesday's public hearing, said yesterday he thinks officials should gamble on the state coming through with extra funding next year.

"It's their decision to make," Roddey said. "If I was making the decision, I think I would go with the lower (fare increase) option, hoping that maybe next year we would find some more money."

Along with pleas from bus and trolley riders to maintain specific routes, the proposed elimination of the tickets was the main subject of testimony at Wednesday's hearing. Nearly 100 local social service agencies hand the tickets out to tens of thousands of low-income clients to ensure they make it to medical and other appointments.

One of the main defenders of the ticket books expressed relief yesterday that they'll likely remain, even if they'll no longer be cheaper than the base fare.

"This is very good news for our program and for the people on medical assistance in Allegheny County," said Bob Lindner of the Travelers Aid Society. "The discount is good, but the instrument is more important."

Officials still seek comments


The Port Authority of Allegheny County still is accepting written testimony on its proposed fare increases and service cuts. Anyone who wants to testify should address comments to: Port Authority Fare and Service Proposal, Heinz 57 Center, 345 Sixth Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15222-2527. Public comments also are being accepted on the Port Authority Web site, www.RideGold.com .

The deadline for receipt of written comments is 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Information on the proposed fare increase and service cuts is available at the Port Authority's Downtown Service Center on Smithfield Street, on buses and light-rail cars and at ticket sales outlets and schedule racks.

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