Missing the bus

Two days after the New Year, Port Authority Transit announced its plan to eliminate more than half of all bus routes that are currently serving the city of Pittsburgh by June 2007. Weekday routes will be reduced from 213 to 92, Saturday routes from 100 to 45, and Sunday routes from 75 to 39. The worst cut for Carnegie Mellon students may be the 28X, also known as the airport flyer.

The proposed plan was created in hopes of taking the city of Pittsburgh out of its current transit crisis. All of the city’s emergency funding was exhausted at the end of December 2006. By next fiscal year, the Port Authority anticipates an operating deficit of between $75 and $80 million, according to a statement by Steve Bland, the Port Authority’s CEO.

For the last decade, the city of Pittsburgh has depended on state funding to support its transit system because it was unable to create a self-sufficient transit system that could meet Pittsburghers’ needs. The last four years have been the most severe, according to a study released recently by the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission. Committees have held public hearings to discuss the possible changes in February 2005, July 2005, and August 2006.

A new round of public hearings begins today at 10 a.m. at the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel, located at 600 Commonwealth Place downtown.

Since the problem became apparent 10 years ago, concerned citizens have formed groups, such as Save Our Transit, demanding dedicated funding and working hard to avoid the proposed cuts. The volunteers at Save Our Transit have spent years attending hearings in Harrisburg to voice complaints, as well as writing letters, sending faxes, and making phone calls to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor Edward G. Rendell.

Today, group members will be holding a march and rally to voice their anger against officials. Gathering at 8:30 a.m. at Mellon Square, the rally will begin at 8:45. The march will begin at 9:15 a.m., ending at the Pittsburgh Hilton in time for the first public hearing.

The group hopes to see a turnout of several hundred people.

Amanda Zeiders, a 2005 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh who organized the rally, is upset that the city is still planning to implement the cuts regardless of whether or not Harrisburg provides sufficient funds.

“I have fought for six years for reliable funding in order to prevent cuts,” Zeiders said. “The fact that local elected leaders refuse to ask for money is a major disappointment.”

But reliable funding means more than just a steady check.

“A growing source of funding is meant to grow with the economy as the economy grows. If we would have had such funding 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Zeiders said.

The cuts would cause all riders to suffer economically, Zeiders continued. Without transportation to work, people will have to move or change jobs. Those who can afford cars will start driving to work, causing more traffic and pollution. Parents will have to leave earlier for work and return home later, meaning more money spent on child care and less time with their families.

“Our quality of living will go down,” Zeiders said. “This plan affects the lives of so many people. It’s horrible.”

This plan will also affect students. Cuts will even be made to the routes that remain. Buses will arrive less often, which means less space and longer waits in the snow. Commuting students may find themselves walking or taking roundabout routes to class. In addition to the 28X, another route headed for elimination is the 500 Highland Park-Bellevue, one of the routes used often by students to get from Oakland to downtown.

The proposed changes will limit students’ activities, including outreach efforts.

“Public transportation is a key method for students to reach out to the greater Pittsburgh community,” said Asako Hayashi, community advisor for Mudge House. “These cuts will cause students to depend on expensive means to get around. RAs will need to use cars to bring students out for cultural events. Using a car can be fine on some occasions, but when you have 30 or so people you need to take for a volunteering event or to the museum, it becomes unfeasible.”

For Sterling Berliant, a first-year in H&SS, the bus has helped her adapt to life in Pittsburgh.

“[Riding the bus] allowed me to feel like a part of the Pittsburgh community. With the elimination of bus routes like the 28X, there will be a disconnect between CMU students and the community,” she said.

Although the Port Authority has stated its intent to cut services no matter what, people can still avoid opinions by sending e-mails to the Port Authority, calling its comment line at (412) 566-5335, attending hearings, and creating web pages.

“This needs to become well known on campus,” Hayashi said. “Students need to seek out interested parties and fight against these changes.”

Fortunately, the changes may be temporary. The Port Authority plans to engage the community in a “Transit Development Plan” that will assess the role of public transportation in Allegheny County in the hopes of rebuilding the system over several years, according to the public hearing brochure issued by the authority.

View the full list of Port Authority service changes.