Transit update: 28X to stay
Attention, travelers: The 28X, the Port Authority’s Airport Flyer, initially slated for elimination by PAT’s proposed budget cuts, isn’t going anywhere. On March 30, the Port Authority board of directors approved a 15 percent service cut. While this does mean that 29 other routes will be eliminated come June 17, some 95 originally facing elimination will remain in service, including the 28X.
The cut is the largest in the Port Authority’s 43-year history, according to an April 3 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The change will save $35 million of the company’s projected $80 million deficit in fiscal year 2008. Though drastic, the cuts are less severe than the original plan, a one-time cut of 25 percent. The plan passed by the board of directors involves the initial cut as well as a potential second cut of 10 percent, which, if passed, will go into effect September 2. The second cut would address the remaining $45 million deficit.
Under the new plan, the 28X would come less frequently, but the route’s customary minibuses would be replaced by regular 40-foot buses. In addition, four routes serving the Oakland community that were originally to be eliminated will now be retained. These routes are the 500, 61F, 67E, and 69A. One Oakland route, the 501, will be discontinued under the new plan.
Despite the Port Authority’s money troubles, Carnegie Mellon students will continue to receive the same discount on public transportation.
“Although our contract provides for unlimited access at the negotiated price, our annual rides exceed one million which equates to only about 70 cents per ride compared to PAT’s current base fares which range from $1.75 to $2.75,” stated Jennifer Church, dean of student affairs, via e-mail. “It is expected that our contract will maintain similar terms for the upcoming year as in past years, which usually includes a modest increase around four to five percent.”
However, regular Pittsburgh residents who rely on the bus system aren’t as lucky.
“We must remember that the [Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission] recognized a significant shortfall of state and local funding to sustain current transit system operations throughout Pennsylvania,” said Steve Bland, Port Authority CEO, in a series of remarks to the board of directors during a meeting on March 30. “Despite community disagreements over our service plans or internal changes, this fact remains unchanged and we must all begin to unite around a strategy that achieves a longterm solution.”
In addition to the service cuts, the board approved a series of internal cost reductions, including freezing the salaries of Bland and Port Authority’s senior staff, restricting benefits and pension plans, and reducing the company’s staff, according to a March 30 Port Authority press release.
The cuts have been met with opposition by riders and activist groups, such as Save Our Transit. On March 29, the group gathered outside across the street from Port Authority’s main offices in the Heinz building downtown to put pressure on the board of directors to vote against the proposed service reductions.
“We as transit riders and supporters wanted to show our support for the transit system in hopes that the board would vote ‘no’ on the 15 percent cuts,” said Amanda Zeiders, chairperson of Save Our Transit.
Zeiders estimated that about 30 people attended the event.
While the vigil ultimately did not affect the board’s decision, customers have made an impact by participating in public hearings and sending public comments. Port Authority reported that 13,000 Pittsburgh residents, business leaders, and local government officials attended a series of public hearings held by PAT between January 22 and February 7. In addition, the company received over 22,000 comments from concerned citizens. Of the comments, 1240 were in support of the 28X, according to the Post-Gazette.
While Zeiders and members of Save Our Transit recognize the company’s need for reform, they believe there are other ways besides instituting service cuts.
“We’d like Port Authority to take a different approach completely,” Zeiders said. “We’d like to see them increase ridership, increase service, to be more efficient in that respect.”
The Port Authority could not be reached for comment.