Transit cuts would endanger jobs

Nursing homes would be particularly hard hit as employees could not get to work

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Public transportation is a lifeline for Alice Anthony, a 52-year-old certified nursing assistant at HRC Manor Care Health Services in Whitehall.

Ms. Anthony, who doesn't drive, relies on the Port Authority's 35A South Park bus to get from her apartment at Leland Point in south Baldwin to the skilled nursing home on Weyman Road, where she works the 3 to 11 p.m. shift.

Often, she has to leave work a few minutes early to catch the last bus, which stops at Caste Village shopping center at 11:08 p.m.

If the 35A is eliminated as part of the Port Authority's proposed massive cutbacks in service, Ms. Anthony doesn't know what she will do. Her son, Jerome, also relies on the bus to get to his job at the Giant Eagle in Caste Village.

"It doesn't make sense. They are cutting out a lot of people's livelihood," said Ms. Anthony, who moved to the apartment complex four years ago, in part because she needed to be on a bus line.

"Two jobs are in jeopardy," she said about herself and her son. "If we lose bus service, we are out of luck."

She is one of thousands of people in the South Hills who are worried about the future of public transportation. Port Authority spokesman Bob Grove said the average weekday ridership in the South Hills, not including the Mon Valley, is more than 57,000, including light rail transit riders.

The Port Authority's proposed service cuts across the South Hills, which are sweeping and widespread, will leave little more than spine lines of service in many communities. Baldwin Borough and Whitehall are two communities that will be badly hit if bus lines such as the 35A, 46A Brentwood, 46D Curry and 46F Baldwin Highlands are eliminated.

Petitions have been circulated in many neighborhoods, including Leland Point, calling for transportation services to be retained.

The Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God in Whitehall circulated a petition, asking County Executive Dan Onorato to prevent the elimination of the 46B Baldwin Manor.

Robyn Gallentine, a spokeswoman for the sisters, said the bus is vital to employees, nurses aides and workers in the housekeeping staff, who help the facility to provide skilled nursing and assisted living services to elderly nuns.

Bradley Burger, vice president of human services for Goodwill Industries, of Pittsburgh, spoke against the proposed cuts at the Port Authority's South Hills hearing on Feb. 7.

Many of the people served by Goodwill, including those with disabilities, would be affected, including employees at the Goodwill Industries of Pittsburgh Whitehall store on Route 51.

He said one national survey showed that 25 percent of the reason people lose their jobs is related to transportation issues. Walking long distances to a mainline bus can be difficult, if not impossible, for the elderly or people with disabilities, he said.

"Many of the streets in our area are not pedestrian friendly, not disability friendly," he said.

Whitehall Mayor James F. Nowalk said four health centers, providing more than 500 nursing home and assisted living beds, could be affected by the proposed cuts, which could impact 84 percent of the bus routes serving his community.

He said health care centers are not the only ones who face serious employment problems.

In Whitehall, many refugees and immigrants who are trying to get a new start in this country were relocated by Catholic Charities to a large apartment community known as Prospect Park.

"The people who live [in Prospect Park] must rely on public transportation to meet their needs," said Mayor Nowalk, since there are no major grocery stores or shopping areas within walking distance of the complex.

"The actions of the Port Authority Transit threaten our residents' economic livelihoods, access to basic needs, educational pursuits and a quality of life that make our region a desirable place in which to live," Mayor Nowalk said in a letter to the Port Authority.

Schoolchildren in many communities also will be affected by the cutbacks.

The Baldwin-Whitehall School District provides Port Authority passes to students who attend parochial schools such as Oakland Catholic High School.

This is the way the district meets the state requirement that public school districts who bus their own children must provide free transportation to students in private and parochial schools within a 10-mile radius.

But if local bus routes are cut, parents will have to deliver their children to a mainline bus stop.

"The district still would provide passes," said Ken Gorton, director of finance and operations for the school district.

In Mt. Lebanon, commissioners invited officials from the Port Authority to speak at the board's Feb. 12 meeting about the possibility of developing some "feeder services" to fill in for bus routes that are scheduled to be eliminated.

Port Authority officials said the idea is one they would like to pursue as part of an overall transit development plan, a long-term plan to rework the entire system.

Barbara Wilson, who lives in north Baldwin, said residents in that sprawling part of the borough, would have to find their way to Brownsville Road to pick up a Carrick bus.

"The problem is that you can't even drive to Brownsville Road [to park] because there's no parking available," she said.

In Leland Point, the 1,057-unit, red-brick apartment complex, more than 2,000 people have signed petitions asking the Port Authority not to eliminate key bus service, including the 35A South Park and 46D Curry.

"We will not have one bus to get out of here," said Ms. Anthony, who plans her whole schedule around public transportation.

She said many people who rely on public transportation work in nursing homes and health centers.

"You have to be there for [elderly residents of nursing homes]," Ms. Anthony said. "It is not like working in a bakery."


Jan Ackerman can be reached at jackerman@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.


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