Public transit to display alcohol ads
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If using public transit in an era of fare increases, service cuts and overcrowded vehicles isn't enough to drive a rider to drink, soon there will be another nudge in that direction.
The Port Authority's new advertising policy, approved by a board committee on Wednesday, bans political ads, religious ads, tobacco ads and anything that depicts pornography or violence. It does not ban alcohol advertising, which is likely to start showing up soon on a bus or trolley near you.
The policy follows a five-year court battle over whether the authority could refuse to post ads on buses informing felons of their right to vote. A federal appeals court ruled it could not because it had previously allowed ads educating the public about other legal rights.
Authority general counsel Michael Cetra said the four-page policy is intended to provide clearer guidelines as to what is acceptable. The former policy, adopted in 1998, was only one paragraph, he said.
Publicity about the court case generated inquiries from would-be advertisers, including some who want to market alcohol, authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
"By expanding the pool of potential advertisers ... we likely will see ad income increase to some degree," authority CEO Steve Bland said. Currently, ad revenue accounts for about $1 million of the agency's $74 million in annual operating income.
Also Wednesday, a board committee reluctantly took the next step toward a July fare increase and a record 35 percent cut in transit service scheduled for September. The approval sends the matter to the full board for ratification on April 27.
Declining state aid and rising health care, pension and fuel costs have the authority facing a projected $64 million deficit for 2012-13. Authority officials, regional business and labor leaders and local government officials have urged Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature to fix a transportation funding shortfall that also is affecting Pennsylvania's roads and bridges, but they have not acted.
"This is not something that any of us want to do," said Wendy Stern, the authority's assistant general manager for planning and development, who gave a presentation on the impact of the service reductions.
Forty-six of the remaining 102 bus routes would be eliminated. Service would end at 10 p.m. on all but 13 bus and rail routes. Six suburban routes would be shortened. Some 400 to 500 drivers, mechanics and administrative staff would be laid off. The Collier bus garage would close.
The plan also calls for "devastating" reductions in ACCESS, the agency's nationally recognized paratransit service for the elderly and disabled that provides 6,000 daily rides, Ms. Stern said.
An estimated 1,800 users of the service in outlying parts of Allegheny County would be stranded, she said.
"We would be abandoning people who don't have choices," board member Guy Mattola said. "Allegheny County will take a big step back in providing services to our most vulnerable citizens."
Mr. Bland acknowledged that the authority, in addition to seeking a permanent state solution to its chronic funding problems, must wring concessions from union workers in ongoing contract talks. Mr. Corbett has said that has to happen before he'll consider additional funding.
The Zone 1 fare would rise by 25 cents to $2.50 on July 1; the Zone 2 fare would go up 50 cents to $3.75. While the fare increase is almost a certainty, the service cuts can be avoided if the state provides a funding solution, officials said.
"This puts in place a schedule that certainly can be undone," Mr. Bland said.
First Published April 19, 2012 6:59 am