Workday transit cuts arrive
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As major bus service cuts began to take effect Sunday, public transit officials and riders held their breath in anticipation of this morning's rush hour, hoping for an easy commute but bracing for a headache.
A total of 29 Port Authority routes have been eliminated, with schedules changing on nearly 80 others, a 15 percent cutback officials say was necessitated by funding shortages. Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie noted no serious delays so far, but added that today -- when many people return to work -- will be the true test of the new system.
9 Perry Highway
13J Franklin Park Express
13K Marshall Express
32 Campbells Run
35 Sunset Hills
42 Mt. Lebanon
61 White Oak
62 Liberty-North Versailles
63A North Braddock Express
67E Greensburg Pike
67J Lincoln Highway
68B Blackridge-Laketon Express
70 Monroeville Shopper
72 Monroeville-North Versailles
74B Highland Park-RIDC
84B Oakland Loop
500 Highland Park-Bellevue
G Greensburg Pike Flyer
G1 West Busway-Robinson
O4 McKnight-Oakland Flyer
P11 Middle Road Flyer
W Wilkins Avenue Flyer
More information on service changes, including route changes or times, is available on the Port Authority website, www.portauthority.org. Click on the news brief "Service Reduction Takes Effect March 27" on the right-hand side of the home page. The transit agency's customer service number is 412-442-2000.
"It absolutely will not be perfect," he said. "And we will experience some sort of disruption over the next few days, but it probably will not be as bad as we feared."
Sunday, the main problem was rider confusion, Mr. Ritchie said.
"We have people calling in who might be at a stop and their bus is a little bit late, and they're saying, 'Is my bus really coming?' " he said. "They're not quite sure of the status."
Today will likely be more chaotic, as riders scramble to find new routes and drivers adjust to the changes, Mr. Ritchie said.
The Port Authority expects more customer service calls than usual, and extra call-takers will operate their phone line, 412-442-2000, starting at 6 a.m. The agency will also post current updates on its website, www.portauthority.org, Mr. Ritchie said.
This weekend, worried and disaffected riders already had started to direct missives at the Port Authority's Twitter feed, www.twitter.com/PGHtransit, where the agency posts notes about delays and responds to queries.
"So where and how can people on the old 51B Spencer run get a bus now?" one rider asked about an eliminated route.
"Thanks to @pghtransit my travel expense has increased around 40%," another griped.
The Port Authority has said reductions are necessary because of rising operating costs and a smaller state subsidy. About 180 workers have lost their jobs.
On Saturday, several community leaders and the president of the union representing Port Authority drivers and mechanics made last-minute pleas to the transit agency's board to hold off the reductions for a week. That delay would have given time for Port Authority executives, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and leaders of Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union to continue talks on money-saving concessions, they said.
But while board members met in executive session for about an hour, when they returned they took no action to postpone the change.
Patrick McMahon, president of the transit union, said in a statement Sunday: "Port Authority management put this round of cuts on a fast track for reasons we cannot understand and did not allow enough time to properly train drivers on new routes or educate transit users regarding the significant impact the cuts would have on their daily commutes."
The union will now begin a campaign to restore the services cut, said AFL-CIO spokesman Marty Marks. As for today, Mr. Marks said, drivers will do their best to smooth the transition.
"The drivers will do their jobs, as they're supposed to, as they always do," he said. "They're dependable, they're reliable and they're professionals. ... "
"Unfortunately, there's 20,000 riders that no longer have their public transit lifeline available to them," he added.
Earlier this month, Port Authority officials accused the union members facing cuts of trying to sabotage service by encouraging drivers to refuse overtime hours and to drag their feet training for new routes. The system relies on drivers working overtime, Mr. Ritchie explained. Union officials denied any concerted effort, though.
Mr. Ritchie does expect that some routes will not have enough trained drivers for all scheduled trips, but the issue has calmed since then, he said.
"We're hearing from far more employees who are saying, 'You can count on me,' " he said.
First Published March 28, 2011 12:00 am