With time running out, two state lawmakers are trying to save bus service that connects low-income workers to their job sites.
The service operates at and around Robinson Town Centre, serving 150 work sites, and in the Mon Valley, where it serves low-income neighborhoods that don't have Port Authority service nearby. Congress eliminated funding for the service, and no money has been found to keep the buses running after June 30.
Several thousand workers could be affected.
"These people are going to have to quit their jobs at the end of the month if there's no funding," said Lynn Manion, executive director of the Airport Corridor Transportation Association, which operates the Robinson Town Centre service.
The 15-passenger shuttles provide 80,000 free rides a year to and from the Port Authority's 28X Airport Flyer stop at IKEA to work sites within a 1.5-mile radius. All of the riders are going to work or job training, and 70 percent are low-income, Ms. Manion said.
Heritage Community Initiatives, which runs the Mon Valley buses, said it serves 3,000 people and provides 13,000 rides per month to residents of seven communities. The organization has scheduled a news conference today to discuss the impending end of its service.
State Sens. Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, and Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, on Tuesday amended Senate Bill 1, the transportation funding measure that subsequently passed Wednesday, to authorize funding for "projects improving connectivity or utilization of existing transportation assets." The bill now goes to the House.
"It's very important," Mr. Costa said. "These two routes serve as a link getting folks from traditional bus stops to places of employment. They fill a void where people don't have access to vehicles or bus routes."
The connector service had been funded by a federal program called Job Access and Reverse Commute. Congress abolished the program in the transportation authorization bill called MAP-21 that it passed and President Barack Obama signed into law last year.
That forced providers to compete for other federal transit funding that the Port Authority gets for bus purchases, capital projects and certain operating expenses.
The authority said it could not spare the $1.75 million the agencies needed -- and even if it could, doing so would be subcontracting of transit service, a violation of federal law and the union contract.
Ridership on the Mon Valley connector buses has more than doubled since the Port Authority cut its own service by 15 percent in 2011. The buses serve East Pittsburgh, Turtle Creek, North Versailles, McKeesport, Port Vue, Glassport, Clairton and the Jefferson Regional Medical Center and CCAC South Campus.
Since the airport area service began in 2009, annual ridership has grown from 18,000 to 80,000, Ms. Manion said. Service operates from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and the buses go only where riders say they need to go. "It's very efficient," she said. "It has made a lot more jobs accessible to people."
She said the service is valuable because there are 30,000 jobs within 1.5 miles of the IKEA bus stop, but in an area where the terrain and absence of sidewalks make walking difficult or dangerous.
Amy Schnarrenberger, director of development at Heritage, said Wednesday that "we are aware of the amendment, but we're not prepared to comment further" on it until today's news conference.
"The situation is constantly unfolding," she said.