Port Authority budgets for 30% service cut, 500 layoffs

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Port Authority expects to cut service by 30 percent or more and lay off at least 500 employees as of Jan. 1 if it doesn't get state help to close a $50 million deficit, according to a summary of its 2010-11 budget.

The service reductions "will result in entire geographic regions lacking public transportation," says the budget summary, to be presented to authority board members this afternoon.

The board must enact a budget this month for the fiscal year beginning July 1 without knowing whether a state bailout is coming.

Gov. Ed Rendell has convened a special session of the Legislature to deal with a transportation funding crisis brought on by the federal government's rejection of the state's plan to collect tolls on Interstate 80.

Many observers doubt that the Legislature will act on the crisis before the November elections.

Another possible source of relief for Port Authority is a bill pending in the U.S. Senate to provide $2 billion in emergency funding to transit systems nationwide to head off fare increases and service cuts.

The American Public Transportation Association has reported that since January 2009, 84 percent of public transit agencies have raised fares, cut service or are considering such actions.

Preliminary calculations are that the federal bill, if passed, would provide less than $20 million to Port Authority -- well short of the amount needed to fill the budget gap.

The board expects to adopt a budget June 25. The following month, it will authorize public hearings on service cuts and/or fare increases, to be held in late August or early September. It would adopt a final "deficit reduction strategy" in September.

Because of legal requirements for public hearings and advance notice to unions of impending layoffs, the changes would not take effect until Jan. 1.

Among the measures under consideration is "premium pricing" of suburban commuter routes to offset the higher cost of such service. One-way fares on those routes could rise to $7 or more, authority CEO Steve Bland has said.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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