For the first time in at least a decade, Port Authority is preparing for comprehensive transit service improvements rather than cuts.
Ellen McLean, who was given a three-year contract on Friday to serve as authority CEO, said her first mission will be evaluating the increased revenue that will be generated by the state's new transportation funding bill and determining how best to use it.
"Our first priority is to enhance existing ridership. We know that from the cuts that buses are overcrowded," she said after a unanimous board vote that upgraded her status from interim CEO. "We've been cutting for so long that we know our riders are stuffed in buses at times. How do you improve that?"
The authority expects to learn over the next few weeks how much it will gain from Act 89, the $2.3 billion transportation spending law approved by the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett in November.
"It's too early to say" exactly how much the agency will get, but the bill "meets our expectations. It's a very robust bill," she said.
The new revenue won't start coming in until July, and the earliest opportunity to add new routes will be in September, but Ms. McLean said "we're not committing to anything at this point in terms of new routes."
More likely in the shorter term are adjustments, such as additional trips on existing routes, to relieve overcrowding, she said. She also wants to pursue development of additional park-n-ride facilities. Some of the new money will address deferred maintenance needs.
Ms. McLean, 60, of Shadyside, succeeded former CEO Steve Bland, who was fired Feb. 1. Initially, she said she was not interested in being the permanent replacement, and the board did a nationwide search before concluding that Ms. McLean was the superior candidate for the job.
"After a year of doing it, it's really an exciting time, a historic time," she said of her change of mind. "It is a much brighter future, the first time in a decade that we have the ability to think strategically about service."
"Ellen's financial expertise and ability to work collaboratively toward solutions has set her apart," said Robert Hurley, authority board chairman. He said she played a key role in lobbying for adequate transit funding in the state legislation.
"We're pretty excited about it," said Chris Sandvig, regional policy director for the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group. "She has the best interests of neighborhoods at heart."
Steve Palonis, president and business agent for Local 85, Amalgamated Transit Union, said the union, representing operators, mechanics and first-level supervisors, has developed a good working relationship with Ms. McLean. She "brings stability and positive direction" to the agency, he said.
Before being named interim CEO, she had served as chief financial officer for the authority since October 2010.
Ms. McLean was chief financial officer for the city of Pittsburgh from 1999 to 2005 and then managing director of infrastructure initiatives at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C., before joining Port Authority.
She holds a master's degree in public management from Carnegie Mellon University and bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in English from Duquesne University. Her salary will be $215,000. The contract includes options for two additional years.
In other action on Friday, the board reappointed Mr. Hurley as chairman and Tom Donatelli as vice chairman. Positions on the 11-member board are unsalaried.
Jon Schmitz: email@example.com, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter @pgtraffic. First Published January 24, 2014 9:50 AM