Look down the line: T stop woes are the least of transit trouble ahead
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The latest preview of trouble ahead for transit customers came this week, when the Port Authority cut off access from 11 stops along its popular Light Rail Transit line from the South Hills to Downtown.
For many commuters, the inconvenience was minor and some passengers said their rides were quicker as a result, but challenges mounted for older riders and those with health conditions that make walking difficult. Half a mile may not seem far to an able-bodied adult, but add a lack of sidewalks, speeding traffic and a cane or walker to the equation and it becomes easy to understand the complaints.
Sadly, the changes that went into effect this week are less than negligible compared to what will happen on Sept. 2 if Gov. Tom Corbett, state lawmakers, agency officials and unionized workers don't pitch in to save the Port Authority service.
Unless something changes in a big way, the Port Authority's self-described "grim" $333 million operating budget will stand, 560 employees will be laid off, 46 bus routes will be eliminated, service will be reduced on the remaining 56 bus and rail routes, and 2,800 spaces at park-n-ride lots will be cordoned off.
It's almost inconceivable in an urban area, but that means only 13 routes will operate after 10 p.m., ACCESS service for senior citizens and disabled residents is threatened, and some city neighborhoods will have no service at all.
Those cuts, coming on top of a 15 percent service cut that went into effect a year ago, would be disastrous for the region.
Right now, uncertainty seems to be the only thing that is certain regarding the Port Authority's future. That creates upheaval and anxiety for employers who don't know how their work force will reach their offices, factories, hospitals and stores; for workers who don't know how or if they'll be able to keep their jobs; for students planning their fall schedules; and the thousands of others who rely on public transportation to get around.
Transit riders already are pitching in, not only by walking farther to reach T stops as some did this week but also by paying higher fares that go into effect on Sunday.
Low-key negotiations between the agency and the union representing its drivers and mechanics are under way, and they must advance with twin goals of sustaining transit service and getting costs under control.
But publicly, there's been very little news from Harrisburg that change is afoot. Nonetheless, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland and incoming transit union local president Steve Palonis last week both expressed optimism that their meetings with county and state representatives will bear fruit. We hope they're right.
Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, too, has said he believes a "shared solution" can be achieved. That's what Allegheny County and its residents desperately need.
First Published June 27, 2012 12:00 am