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Westmoreland transit service may grow

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, March 31, 2011

While state funding cuts have resulted in major service reductions for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, officials with Westmoreland County's public transit system are eyeing ways to lure additional riders.

Larry Morris, executive director of the county transit authority, said Wednesday that potential service increases are being explored to augment an already burgeoning bus system.

"Our buses are crowded, and we'll look at some of our trips that are overcrowded," Morris said. "We're always looking at our service."

The Port Authority this week instituted drastic service cuts as it eliminated 29 routes, made cuts to 37 others and laid off 180 employees in a move designed to save $20 million.

The Westmoreland transit authority has not experienced financial problems and continues to see customer increases.

It operates four daily commuter routes to Pittsburgh in addition to local service throughout Westmoreland County. Ridership on the transit system has steadily increased, nearly 22 percent in February compared to totals from a year ago. Ridership over the last year has increased by almost 8 percent.

There were more than 463,000 passengers on authority buses last year.

Morris said skyrocketing fuel prices have contributed to the authority's increased business as motorists in growing numbers have chosen to commute using public transportation. And as gasoline prices continue to soar, more riders are expected.

In 2008, the last time fuel prices spiked, the authority increased trips on its Pittsburgh commuter routes to accommodate additional passengers. Morris said most of those newly gained riders continued to take public transportation even after fuel prices dropped.

But the price of fuel has become a double-edge sword for the authority, as it is also paying more to operate its fleet.

"We are concerned about that as the price of fuel goes up. We want to try to prepare for that," Morris said. He declined to say whether a fare hike will be considered as part of the authority's next operating budget, which will be finalized before June 30.

The authority last raised fares by an average of 24 percent in early 2008.

While no concrete plans are in place to increase bus service or hike fares, Morris said authority officials are exploring putting additional buses into service to allow for additional trips to Pittsburgh.

The authority currently operates with a fleet of 37 buses, including nine new vehicles recently purchased. Nine older vehicles were taken out of service, but some could be returned to the active fleet if additional trips are deemed necessary, Morris said.

"We're pretty much at capacity at this point," Morris said.

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