The Port Authority faces a projected $64 million deficit in its upcoming fiscal year. That's due, in part, to an ongoing transportation funding crisis on the state level. To try and stay afloat in the face of such cuts, a plan has been put forth that would dramatically reduce service in Allegheny County and raise fares on remaining service. These, said Port Authority officials, will be very different from cuts that were made in March. At that time, they said, people at least had other options — which will likely not be the case this time.
"Transit options for most of our riders will be virtually non-existent," said Wendy Stern, assistant general manager of planning and development with the Authority, "the current proposed route eliminations will significantly truncate our service area. Service in the outer portions of Allegheny County will largely disappear effectively shrinking our system coverage to not much beyond the City of Pittsburgh borders."
The plan includes the elimination of 45 routes that cover areas including Mount Washington, Mt. Lebanon, Sewickley, and Oakmont; remaining routes will be scaled back with shorter hours and no weekend service in some cases; fares would be increased; and two garages would close. The Port Authority estimates about 45,000 daily riders will be left stranded if these changes take effect. Authority CEO Steve Bland said the changes would also be a huge step backward for Pittsburgh.
"Right now 50 percent of the people who work downtown, 25 percent of the people who work in Oakland, two of the three largest economic generators in the state rely on public transportation. Without that option I have to question how long we can be as economically competitive as we are," said Bland.
The changes aren't set in stone. They have been sent on to the full board for approval. At a January 27 meeting, the board is expected to authorize the public comment process and public hearing for the changes. The public comment period will begin February 5. If they're approved, fare increases would take effect July 1, service changes would take effect September 2. But, officials are still hoping the state will step in and help stave off such drastic cuts.
"The key issue right now is statewide, for transportation, there is a shortfall for funding," said Bland, "there's a credible plan for addressing it that the governor's funding commission put in August. First and foremost, as a state, we need to move forward on that, not just for public transit in Pittsburgh, but for roads and bridges statewide."
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the proposed cuts will have a significant and profound impact on the county's resident and bussinesses.
"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. Everyone needs to come to the table and work together to address this issue and provide real solutions for transit," he said.