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Nation

Funding for nation's public transit continues to drop

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011

Port Authority of Allegheny County's financial problems aren't unique, a national study released on Wednesday shows.

The study by the Washington-based American Public Transportation Association shows more than half the nation's transit agencies -- 51 percent -- have cut service or raised fares since the beginning of 2010 because of flat or reduced funding and increased fuel prices. An even larger percentage is considering service cuts or fare increases.

"Public transportation systems are currently experiencing decreases in their funding during a time when many are serving increased numbers of riders," said APTA President William Millar, a former Port Authority CEO.

APTA also found that since Jan. 1, 2010, about 55 percent of agencies imposed wage freezes or cuts, 37 percent froze hiring and 21 percent laid off workers. The study said problems are more pronounced at larger agencies with at least 25 million trips a year, such as Port Authority.

Citing state funding that hasn't risen with inflation or to meet its own soaring costs, Port Authority in January hiked fares on most routes by 25 to 50 cents and then, in March, cut service across its system by 15 percent and laid off 180 workers.

Although APTA says ridership is increasing nationwide, that hasn't happened here -- since the March cuts, Port Authority ridership has fallen from an average of 230,000 daily riders, to 200,000.

Port Authority officials say they face a projected $30 million deficit next year.

Port Authority has been lobbying state legislators for more reliable funding. Last year, the state lost a bid to increase funding to local agencies as proposed under the Act 44 transportation funding law, passed in 2007. The federal government barred Pennsylvania from enacting a toll on Interstate 80 and using the revenue for transportation statewide, including for mass transit. Port Authority failed to get more than $27 million in anticipated annual revenue, officials said.

"Act 44 didn't generate the money that was promised, which left everyone relying on it in a real bind," Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

APTA thinks the federal government needs to do more.

"With the challenges on the state and local level, this is a time for increased federal investment in public transportation to help with job creation and stimulating the economy," Millar said. "Federal investment is essential to preserve critical maintenance and replacement of older vehicles for larger systems and to maintain crucial day-to-day operations for smaller transit systems.

"Clearly, local and state governments will not be able to make up the difference as these needs increase."

To read the APTA study, go to www.apta.com .

Additional Information:

Route changes

About a third of Port Authority's 100 routes will undergo schedule and routing changes starting Sept. 4.

The agency adjusts routes on a quarterly basis.

Among the changes are rerouting the O12 McKnight Flyer, which provides service between the North Hills and Downtown, to allow use of 60-foot, articulated buses. The route uses traditional 40-foot buses, but spokesman Jim Ritchie said the O12 'has been heavily congested' since March service cuts elsewhere in the North Hills drove more riders to the line.

The agency also plans to add 13 daily outbound trips on the 61D Murray route to alleviate overcrowding in the Oakland-Squirrel Hill corridor.

And the new 38C Greentree Express M branch will get direct service between Greentree Road and the Mt. Lebanon Light Rail Station. Currently, 38C riders must go Downtown to connect to the light rail.

Other adjustments include adding trips to more than a half-dozen routes to accommodate student riders, and changing times on more than a dozen other routes. For more information, go to www.portauthority.org.

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