The quip about activist John Tague is that his attendance record at Port Authority meetings is better than that of many board members.
Going forward, though, Mr. Tague won't be able to outdo at least one board member -- himself.
Mr. Tague, a longtime advocate for disabled people, was appointed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to serve on the unsalaried nine-member panel. He fills the unexpired term of James Dodaro, who resigned.
Over the past decade, Mr. Tague, 65, of Greenfield, has attended virtually every authority board meeting, committee meeting and public hearing. The former steel worker has muscular dystrophy and has used a wheelchair since age 50.
"For years, John has been a key presence at Port Authority board meetings and transit hearings. He has proven himself a tireless advocate for riders, especially those living with disabilities," authority CEO Steve Bland said.
"I'm very pleased," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "I've known John for a number of years and worked with him on many, many issues. John is very passionate about representing the disability community, and he brings a real common sense approach to government and the things we do."
Mr. Tague, who uses ACCESS and regular transit service, said he has lobbied for some time to be appointed to the board. "What we wanted is someone with a disability perspective," he said, adding that the agency has always been responsive to his suggestions.
He joins the board at a time of continuing uncertainty about transit funding in general and the future of ACCESS, both of which narrowly avoided a 35 percent service cut this year because of a budget deficit.
The agreement reached with the Amalgamated Transit Union, Gov. Tom Corbett and Mr. Fitzgerald to couple contract concessions with increased state and county funding to stave off service cuts "is a temporary reprieve," he said. "Hopefully, the governor and General Assembly will do something in the spring. I'm optimistic."
Mr. Tague was born in Erie and moved here at age 3, living in Baldwin Township and Brookline and later attending South Hills Catholic High School. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education at Edinboro University and worked summers in the Jones & Laughlin steel mill on the South Side.
His advocacy began at about the time that his congenital condition required him to begin using a wheelchair. And from the start, he said, he was interested in transportation issues.
Working with the Three Rivers Center for Independent Living, he organized a meeting with then-Port Authority CEO Paul Skoutelas that was attended by about 100 disabled people. "In advocacy, if you have a success, it empowers you to do more," he said.
To say he did more would be an understatement. He has since worked as a consultant with United Cerebral Palsy-Community Living and Support Services; served on the Committee for Accessible Transportation, which advises the authority on disability-related issues, and on the state Vocational Rehabilitation Board; and is a past chairman of the Governor's Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities. He also served as president of the Allegheny County Transit Council, which advocates for all transit riders.
He said his experiences as a rider have been mostly satisfactory. "By and large, the drivers are decent. They treat you well. That doesn't mean everyone does," he said. "I've had pretty good luck."
Mr. Tague said his priorities as a board member are maintaining a good working relationship with the union and preserving ACCESS, which has earned accolades as one of the nation's best paratransit services. Funding problems nearly forced the authority to revert to federal minimum standards of serving people within three-quarters of a mile of bus lines rather than the entire county.
"What I'm hoping we can do is figure out a way to maintain that door-to-door, border-to-border service," he said.
He also wants the authority to preserve existing bus and rail stops. The agency has put on the back burner a plan to reduce the number of bus stops systemwide but recently eliminated stops on the Light Rail Transit system. Mr. Tague said he also was disappointed with the city of Pittsburgh's decision to eliminate a Fifth Avenue bus stop near Market Square.
"There are a lot of people [who aren't disabled] with mobility issues," he said.
Mr. Tague and his wife, Anna, have two daughters, Keeley, 22, a recent Duquesne University graduate, and Molley, 21, a sophomore at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.