Port Authority standing pat on routes

Riders pushing service restoration

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Dennis Donahoe has to walk two miles and conquer a steep hill to reach the Port Authority bus route nearest to his apartment in north Baldwin Borough.

It’s also been an uphill climb for Mr. Donahoe and others in the community who have campaigned for restoration of service that was eliminated during budget cuts in 2011.

No additional routes will be part of the authority’s next round of quarterly service changes, scheduled to take effect Aug. 31, officials said Friday. Some routes will get extra trips to ease overcrowding, including the 51 Carrick to which Mr. Donahoe and his Churchview Avenue neighbors hike.

The residents have written letters, held community meetings and plan to invite authority board members and elected officials to walk their walk in September, said Molly Nichols, an organizer with Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

New transit funding that was part of the state transportation law that passed last year is intended to enhance existing service rather than pay for additional routes, authority chairman Robert Hurley said. The budget calls for a 2 percent service increase in the fiscal year that runs through next June — mainly additional buses on current routes.

“It will be a number of months before we consider new routes,” he said. That would be a systematic review and not just a decision on north Baldwin.

Pittsburghers for Public Transit has focused on that neighborhood but wants the authority to place a higher priority on restoring service to all places that were essentially abandoned when 29 bus routes were eliminated in March 2011 because of financial problems, Ms. Nichols said.

About 500 residents of north Baldwin completed a survey and 87 percent said they would ride the bus if service was restored, she said. “These residents are really engaged. They’re feeling like they’re in a transportation desert.”

“They’ve done a pretty good job articulating their concerns,” acknowledged Mr. Hurley, who said he has received more than 40 letters on the issue.

Mr. Donahoe, who walked to the Carrick bus to travel to Friday’s authority board meeting, told members that he has used transit since 1965. He said his 48-minute walk to Brownsville Road was not too unpleasant because the weather was nice, but for those less healthy, and during the winter, it’s out of the question.

Mel Packer, a Pittsburghers for Public Transit member from Point Breeze, questioned the authority’s plan to move ahead with $5.5 million in planning and design of a Bus Rapid Transit line from Downtown to Oakland, an area already well-served by buses, while other neighborhoods have no service.

“It doesn’t sit well with a lot of people,” he told the board. For working-class people and senior citizens “it look like you’re being discarded, like you don’t matter.”

The criticism appeared to strike a chord with board member D. Raja, who later abstained from a vote to extend a contract with the authority’s consultant on Bus Rapid Transit. After the meeting, he said he wants to study the agency’s priorities.

“In general, I’m in favor of Bus Rapid Transit. While I think it is a worthwhile project, I want to look at the overall picture,” he said.

With only seven of the 11 board members present, and seven votes needed to pass the contract extension, Mr. Raja’s abstention pushed the matter back to the next board meeting in late September. Mr. Hurley said that won’t delay work on the project.

Authority spokeswoman Heather Pharo said schedule changes planned for Aug. 31 do not include new routes but will bring several service enhancements, including added trips on the crowded 51 Carrick and 51L Carrick Limited routes. Other details will be released soon, she said.


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@jpost-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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