Port Authority reduces bus service by 10 percent

On Sunday, Sept. 2, the Port Authority of Allegheny County reduced its service by an additional 10 percent in hopes of dissipating some of the company’s $80 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1.

The reduction was the second of three phases of change. The first phase, which went into effect on June 17, reduced service by 15 percent, eliminating 30 regular routes. These changes were minor compared to the original proposal made in January, which would have cut service by 25 percent and eliminated 124 routes.

However, the Port Authority found that phase one alone was insufficient for regulating budget deficiencies, and decided to implement phase two of the plan. If the additional decrease is not effective enough, the Port Authority will move on to phase three, which will increase the fares on certain routes via one of two current proposals. One proposal would increase the base fare from the current $1.75 to $2.50 while keeping the zone structure. The other proposal would have all riders pay a flat $2 fare. If the Port Authority deems it necessary, phase three will go into effect Jan. 1, 2008. The Port Authority has not yet decided which routes will be affected.

Even before the cuts, the reliability of the transportation system was regarded unfavorably by some Carnegie Mellon students.

“My experience with the buses has been almost completely unreliable,” said Kyri Baker, a sophomore in electrical and computer engineering. “The only bus that seems to actually follow its schedule in my experience has been the 28X. My friends and I have waited for almost an hour for the 59U to pick us up, and I think the 61 buses only seem more reliable because there are more of them. [It] makes even small trips like going to Squirrel Hill take much longer than necessary.”

Christine Park, a sophomore economics major, agrees.

“[The Port Authority’s] unreliability wastes a chunk of my day,” Park said. “It really is an inconvenience because I have to set aside two to three extra hours for transportation. I also don’t support any further cuts in the public transportation department because it’s bad as it is.”

Those who will be most affected are residents of certain sections of Allegheny County that will lose all public transportation, and areas such as Brookline and Troy that have lost most of their routes, according to Amanda Zeiders of Save Our Transit, a non-profit organization working to eliminate service cuts. Many workers and families, some of whom cannot afford their own vehicles, depend on the public transportation system, Zeiders said. Others find taking the bus a better and more cost-effective alternative to the expensive and hard-to-find parking available downtown.

However, the Port Authority estimates that the new plans will result in a projected rider loss of only 4 percent, according to its website.

Part of the Port Authority’s financial trouble may be due to “lavish” management perks that caused a $28 million pension plan deficit, according to a March 24 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In July, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland responded to the allegations by implementing radical changes in managerial policies, including the elimination of lifetime healthcare benefits and 56 staff positions, and the freezing of the salaries of senior management, including his own.

Some riders, such as members of Save Our Transit, have taken it upon themselves to secure alternate funding, in fear that their own routes will be cut next.

Save Our Transit believes that workers and riders alone should not have to pay the price for Port Authority’s poor funding. The group is now working hard to secure funding from local authorities.

“Right now we’re working on getting dedicated funding,” Zeiders said. “We’re very close to getting it. The state has agreed to give some dedicated funding, but unless local authorities match their funding, we won’t get any funding.”

A public hearing to discuss the possibility of alternatives and local funding for the public transportation system will be held Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. at 436 Grant St. in Downtown. In order to speak at the hearing, participants must preregister by calling Job Mascio, the county clerk, at (412) 350-5636 or by making a request online at (