Democrats push for Port Authority solution
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 22:01
Pennsylvania Democrats are urging Gov. Tom Corbett to raise $200 million from Pennsylvania Turnpike revenues to avoid the proposed 35 percent Port Authority of Allegheny County cuts that are scheduled for Sept. 2.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23), along with 12 other Pennsylvania, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Democrats called on Corbett during a Jan. 19 press conference to help the Port Authority get out of its $64 million deficit.
During the conference, Frankel outlined House Bill 2112, which is part of a three-bill package aimed at increasing state transit funding.
The Port Authority announced Jan. 18 that it would likely have to reduce service by 35 percent, cutting routes to 100 communities and eliminating 500-600 jobs as well as 46 routes, stranding as many as 45,000 riders daily.
The cuts would mean an overall 50 percent reduction in Port Authority's service since last March, when it had to reduce service by 15 percent because of a $47.1 million deficit. That cut resulted in the elimination of 27 routes and 270 jobs. In addition, 37 routes experience reduced weekday service, which affected 45 percent of all riders.
"Solving this funding issue will require action at the local and state level. It took Port Authority nearly 50 years to get into this situation, and it's going to take some time to get out of it as well," Fitzgerald wrote in a Jan. 18 press release. "Everyone needs to come to the table and work together to address this issue and provide real solutions for transit."
Fitzgerald was in Harrisburg Tuesday lobbying state leaders for funds to aid the service.
Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said that if the service isn't provided with a long-term solution to its funding crisis, Port Authority will go into a "free fall."
"We would be cutting routes where buses are full, and there is no real need to be cutting this service at this time," Ritchie said. "You lose that ridership, and there is no need for the routes you have left because people will find other ways to commute, and you have to cut service again. Ultimately, you spiral out of control."
Ken Zapinski, vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which has been working with the Port Authority to find a funding solution, agreed that the possible September cuts could result in a permanent loss in riders.
"People fall out of the habit of using it," Zapinski said. "They'll start to use a car or carpool with someone else. Then, even if the service is restored, they think ‘What happens at this time next year? How can I be sure there won't be more cuts?' So, they would just find it more reassuring to keep using a car."
Zapinski said service cuts would impact Pittsburgh more than other metropolitan areas because half of Downtown's commuters and one-quarter of Oakland's commuters use public transportation.
Ritchie agreed with Zapinski and said Port Authority wants to avoid any cuts, but added that they have to "plan for the worst."
"We are required under law to balance our budget, and as of right now, it looks like we'll have to go along with these cuts to balance the budget," Ritchie said.
But Ritchie said he is pleased with Corbett's attempts to address the Port Authority's funding crisis.
In August, Corbett's Pennsylvania Transportation Funding Advisory Commission set recommendations and outlined the state's transportation funding, including a plan for how to adequately fund bridge projects and public transportation.
Corbett plans to address the state's public transportation in his state-wide address scheduled for early February.
On Dec. 2, 2010, former Gov. Ed Rendell appropriated $45 million to bail Pittsburgh Port Authority out of it $47.1 million deficit. A unanimous Jan. 12, 2010 vote resulted in Port Authority spreading the appropriation throughout the 2011-12 fiscal year and enacting a 15 percent service reduction last March. Port Authority was forced to eliminate 27 routes and 270 jobs.
Ritchie said the March 2011 cuts and the proposed September cuts are the result of the state's decision not to toll Interstate 80.
He added the Port Authority won't be satisfied with receiving funds that will only help it avoid or minimize service reduction temporarily.
"When you have the temporary solutions we've had in the past, it's only good for year-to-year," Ritchie said. "What we're seeking is that lasting solution."