In the coming days, our region and our state face one of those major decisions where we have an opportunity to take a significant step forward — in this case, to bolster our road, bridge and transit programs for many years. It is imperative that the state Legislature act now on comprehensive transportation-funding legislation, especially so that hard-earned advancements in our public transit system do not go to waste.
Today, about 200,000 people ride Port Authority buses and light rail daily. More than 50 percent of Downtown commuters use it. In just one company, BNY Mellon, nearly 4,000 of 7,700 employees rely on public transit.
Imagine all these people — or even half of overall ridership — driving cars instead of using transit and joining the traffic jams each rush hour on the parkways, Route 28 and Route 51. Imagine trying to find a parking spot in Downtown or Oakland.
It’s for these reasons, and the undeniable link between mass transit and economic growth, that we must not let our financial support falter.
Thanks to the collective efforts Allegheny County has made with ATU Local 85, Port Authority management and our partners at the state, we’ve drastically changed the nature of Port Authority for the better. Bus operations now account for 55 percent of expenses, which is below the statewide median of 60 percent. Fares now account for 26 percent of revenue, above the state median of 18 percent.
We need to build on these and other achievements so that the Port Authority and ACCESS remain reliable services that benefit riders, employers, businesses, seniors and those with disabilities.
If we don’t adequately fund public transportation now, we will face substantial route cuts and lost ridership. Our transit system ultimately will shrink so much that people no longer will use it.
The impact would ripple throughout the region. What happens to our major corporations that no longer would have adequate transportation options for their employees? What would happen to them in five or 10 years when another county woos them — and that county has a thriving transit system? What about the company in 2014 looking to locate in a region with a robust transit system? Will it pick Allegheny County?
I know this is a tough vote for our leaders in Harrisburg and I know they want the best for Allegheny County, southwestern Pennsylvania and our state. I’m here to encourage them to address now the state’s long-standing crisis in transportation funding.
We all want to move forward — together.
Rich Fitzgerald is Allegheny County executive.