Transit cuts begin Sunday

Reductions designed to keep system 'viable' until funding source found

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Cuts in service scheduled to take effect Sunday are designed to keep the Port Authority's transit system "viable" until state officials can agree on a permanent funding source, its chief executive said Tuesday.

Port Authority board members knew they had no guarantee that Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature would agree on a new way to finance mass transit and state highway projects in the next 18 months, authority chief Steve Bland told members of Allegheny County Council's finance committee.

"But we want to keep as many buses going as long as possible until the long-term funding issue is resolved," he said.

The 15 percent service cuts, which include the elimination of 29 bus routes, are scheduled to take effect Sunday morning. Mr. Bland characterized them as "horrible." But they were a better alternative than the "unimaginable" 35 percent service cuts that could become necessary on July 1 if nothing were done now.

Loss of that much bus and light-rail service would "compromise the ability of Downtown and Oakland to be [economically] competitive," he said.

Mr. Bland answered questions from finance committee members Tuesday night in a small conference room in the courthouse while protesters rallied outside. Their chants of "Stop the cuts," punctuated by rhythmic blasts from air horns, were audible in the room during much of the two-hour hearing.

Mr. Bland said after the meeting that he would take comments and suggestions made by council members back to the Port Authority board, whose members set policy for the transit agency. Nothing he heard Tuesday night, however, persuaded him that delaying the pending service reductions would be a wiser course of action.

Several council members suggested raising bus and light-rail fares instead of cutting routes. Riders in the Preston neighborhood of Stowe were losing bus service with no chance to agree to higher fares, Councilman Michael Finnerty, D-Scott, said.

Riders in Franklin Park and Marshall appear willing to have their daily transit fares doubled when a private bus company takes over their routes, Councilman Nick Futules, D-Verona said.

Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said he believed the Port Authority was just delaying a final day of reckoning. Legislators in Harrisburg had no more money to spend on mass transit, he said.

Finance committee chairman William Robinson, D-Hill District, recessed, but did not adjourn, the session and promised to schedule a second meeting soon.

On Thursday, council's government reform committee will consider a more radical solution to solving the Port Authority's financial problems.

Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross, wants council to petition the state Legislature to permit the transit agency to go bankrupt and then reorganize.

Like a private business, the Port Authority then could renegotiate all its labor contracts, amend work rules and, possibly, reduce some of its legacy costs for benefits promised to retirees.

Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159.


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