28 aXed?

It may be time to become better friends with the elite car-owning students around campus. Pittsburgh Port Authority Transit recently announced major cuts to several bus routes throughout the city, two of which are significant to student life.

The big news for students is the impending loss of the 28X. If the 28X disappears, Carnegie Mellon students will join the ranks of college students throughout the nation who have to do more than walk to the edge of campus and flash a school ID to get a ride to the airport. That is, unless a private company called Airlines Transportation arranges a $5 shuttle service for students, a service they offered more frequently before the 28X came to life in 1996, and something their parent company, Pittsburgh Transportation Group, is suggesting might happen.

The proposed cuts — the elimination of 124 of 213 weekday bus routes — also include the 500 line, which takes passengers from one side of the city to the other. For students, this would mean having to transfer lines to get to the Warhol Museum downtown.

The reality of the situation? It sucks — but we don’t have to deal with the brunt of the ordeal. Four hundred PAT employees will be laid off, and suburbanites are looking at the complete extinction of their public transportation lines, which could affect passengers who rely on the bus to get to work every day. In fact, Oakland and downtown Pittsburgh are the least affected areas. The entirety of the proposed cuts results in a 25 percent reduction of the services provided by the nation’s 15th-largest public transportation system, a system operating in the nation’s 28th-largest county.

Worst of all, these cutbacks look like the PAT’s only option of staying afloat. You may recall hearing about route changes in previous years; from 2000 through 2004, four hearings were held that ultimately resulted in fare increases and service decreases. In 2005 and 2006, the PAT threatened more service cuts and higher costs, but Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s stopgap funding shifted federal highway funds to quick-fix solutions for the public transportation systems. (This may explain a lot about the condition of the PA turnpike.)

The threats may seem like a farce — six continuous years of threats with few major changes make the PAT sound a lot like the boy who cried wolf — but the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission has declared a crisis situation, and Pittsburgh PAT CEO Steve Bland has said that these proposed changes are very real. Without an effort by the PAT to create a more efficient and cost-effective system, the commission won’t provide more funds. Currently, funds meant for the purchase of new buses are being used to balance the fiscal year 2007 budget instead.

Public hearings are being held starting today in an effort to further evaluate the proposed route changes. These are the most important and viable ways for your opinions to be heard. The PAT is looking for suggestions and ideas, and reasons why certain routes are necessary to you.

While we strongly recommend voicing your thoughts at the public hearings, we encourage you to think practically toward the future. Some cuts may be crucial now for the long-term survival of the PAT, and some slight inconveniences for us may result in fewer inconveniences for Pittsburghers whose mobility is reliant on the buses.