Port Authority ridership increases
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Reflecting a national trend, Port Authority transit ridership increased by 6.2 percent in the first three months of the year, a national organization reported Monday.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, the authority provided 16.6 million rides on buses, light rail, inclines and paratransit service in the first quarter, nearly a million more than in the first quarter of 2011.
Nationwide, public transit ridership was up 5 percent, the fifth consecutive quarterly gain, APTA reported. It cited as two factors the spike in gasoline prices and signs of an improving economy. Sixty percent of transit rides are taken by people going to or from work.
U.S. transit agencies provided nearly 2.7 billion rides during the first quarter, an increase of 125.7 million trips over the first three months of 2011.
"Incredible numbers," said Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of APTA, in a conference call with reporters. He said several cities -- including Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Indianapolis, New York, Oakland, Calif., and San Diego -- broke ridership records for the quarter.
The Beaver County Transit Authority had a 9.3 percent ridership gain for the quarter, according to APTA. The agency is on track for its 10th consecutive year of record ridership.
For the Port Authority, bus ridership was up 6.4 percent and light rail ridership increased 1.8 percent. The numbers signal that transit usage has now surpassed the levels that existed before a 15 percent service reduction in late March of 2011.
The gains also came largely before the opening of the North Shore Connector, a 1.2-mile extension of the Light Rail Transit system.
Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said rising gasoline prices typically boost transit ridership. Also, he said, riders have had time to adjust to route revisions that were made to improve efficiency but might have temporarily caused some to stop using transit.
"So, we're now providing transit service to more riders with fewer vehicles and operating at a far more productive level than ever before," he said.
Numbers compiled by the authority show continued growth after the first quarter. In April, transit ridership was up by 10 percent compared with the same month in 2011. Light rail ridership was up 30 percent, boosted by the debut of the connector.
Despite the gains, the authority remains on course for another round of service cuts, the largest in its 48-year history, because of a projected $64 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The board has approved a 35 percent reduction, effective Sept. 2, 90 days from now. Forty-six of the remaining 102 routes would be eliminated.
The authority has said the cuts can be avoided if state, local and transit union officials can reach an agreement that will stabilize its finances. Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union is in contract talks with the authority, with its current pact expiring June 30. Gov. Tom Corbett's spokesman has said he wants to see what cost savings are achieved before he will consider providing more state funding.
Talks involving state, Allegheny County, Port Authority and Local 85 officials are ongoing, said Amie Downs, spokeswoman for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
First Published June 5, 2012 12:00 am