Advocates push Corbett, legislators to better fund public transportation

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Public transportation advocates today urged Gov. Tom Corbett and the Pennsylvania Legislature to provide funding sufficient to expand service and reduce fares.

"We want to remind people that we are still in the midst of a severe transit crisis," said Molly Nichols of Bloomfield, a volunteer member of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, one of several groups that joined for a news conference at the City-County Building in Downtown Pittsburgh. "Over the past few years, our transit system has been wracked with cuts and fare increases ... Catastrophic cuts are still looming unless we get a transportation bill that provides long-term dedicated funding for public transit."

Mr. Corbett on Thursday is expected to unveil his plan for dealing with an estimated $3.5 billion annual shortfall in state spending to maintain highways, bridges, transit systems and other transportation modes.

Part of his plan will be removing a cap on taxes paid by gasoline wholesalers, a move that could bring in as much as $1.85 billion.

Ms. Nichols announced a statewide campaign to pressure legislators for funding that will not only restore previous transit service cuts but add service and reduce fares. Part of the effort will be a Feb. 11 rally in Harrisburg.

"The current service is not sufficient or affordable for the residents of Allegheny County," she said.

Since 2000, the Port Authority has increased fares five times and cut service three times because of chronic funding shortfalls. A 35 percent service cut scheduled for last September was narrowly averted by an emergency plan that included state and county funding and concessions by unionized drivers and mechanics.

Andrew Austin, executive director of the nonprofit Americans for Public Transit, said the problems are not confined to Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania. Transit agencies across the U.S. have been forced to cut service, lay off workers and raise fares in recent years.

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak cited what she called "a frightening lack of investment in our roads and bridges and buses and rail cars ... our mass transit system has suffered from years of crises and cuts and last-ditch rescues. We need a comprehensive transportation agenda that keeps Pennsylvania moving."

Ms. Nichols said the groups oppose any move toward privatization of mass transit, saying she heard Mr. Corbett embrace the concept during a speech at the University of Pittsburgh.

Privatization "spells disaster ... With privatized transit, fares go up while quality, safety and wages go down," she said.

She noted that the Port Authority was created because of the failure of several private transit companies in the region.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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