Transportation
6:03 pm
Wed February 29, 2012

Blind, Disabled Speak Out Against PAT Cuts

The Port Authority of Allegheny County got an earful on Wednesday from hundreds of people angry about the Board's plan to drop about half of its bus routes and reduce service on the rest.

PAT said it's legally required to balance its budget, so it has no choice but to raise fares and cut routes to deal with a $64 million budget deficit coming this July. If they're passed, the cuts would take effect in September, while fares would increase in July.

Many of the speakers at Wednesday's public hearing were blind or had other disabilities. They said PAT service is a lifeline to their careers and much of the outside world.

"We depend on public transit. It's our car. We don't have a choice," said Evelyn Nickel, a blind bus rider from Swissvale. "We don't want to have to give up our jobs because we have no way to get there."

The ACCESS ride-sharing service for riders with disabilities would suffer heavy cuts under the Port Authority's plan. Disabled ACCESS user Christine Ryder of Wilmerding drew loud applause from the crowd after giving her testimony through a voice box.

"Cutting or eliminating ACCESS service will set the independent living movement in Allegheny County back thirty years," said Ryder. "It will keep me and others with disabilities from our ability to live independently."

Many of the speakers called for Governor Tom Corbett and the state legislature to dedicate revenue to the Port Authority to fill its budget gap and thwart the proposed route cuts. The governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Committee proposed several funding ideas over the summer, but none have passed the General Assembly.

David Ninehouser of We Are One Western Pennsylvania said the governor is not taking the initiative to fund public transit.

"It's like saying, 'We're not going to give a patient the medicine he needs, we can't afford it, but we expect him to be fine,'" said Ninehouser.

Relatively few speakers proposed remedies to the funding problem. Allegheny Conference on Community Development Senior Vice President Ken Zapinski said the solution is a combination of state and local funding efforts.

"The recommendation from Governor Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, combined with sufficient matching funds from Allegheny County and appropriate labor contract changes, would provide a foundation to stabilize the Port Authority's operation and allow for possible small additions of service in future years," said Zapinski. "Without action, the agency will enter a death spiral of massive cuts each year, until it is essentially an empty shell."

The public comment period on the proposed service cuts ends at 4:00 PM March 9. Comments can be submitted online.