Say What!: End of the Line for PAT?
The Port Authority of Allegheny County is facing a $30 million funding shortage in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2004. They will resort to unprecedented measures to offset this deficit if no sustainable source of funding is found. If implemented, these service reductions and fare increases will greatly injure the local economy and cut the number of trips in half: 125,000 fewer than the current number. These cuts do nothing to improve quality of life or reduce Pittsburghers? dependence on the personal automobile.
Complete elimination of Saturday, Sunday, and holiday bus, rail, and ACCESS Paratransit service is planned, along with the discontinuation of weekday service after 9 in the evening. In addition, an undisclosed number of operators will be laid off. The ones who would most be affected by these cuts would be the elderly; low-income workers; and certainly students. Furthermore, the base fare will increase to $2.50. The Port Authority has raised fares twice since April 2000, from $1.25 to $1.60 and now $1.75 base fare. In September 2002, a seven percent reduction of service was implemented, cutting some direct Oakland service and 24-hour service. Just recently the UV Loop was eliminated. It was the only Friday and Saturday transportation to the hot spots of the city, such as the South Side and the Strip, except for the 54C line, which quits after 1 am.
These cuts would devastate the campus community. Everyone would be limited to weekday travel and would have difficulty going beyond walking distance. In addition, students could be victims of increased crime because they will have to walk to their destinations when the buses do not run. The fare increases will also affect the students when the contract runs out for the ?free rides.? Compared to today?s $38 per semester charge, students may have to pay as much as $55 per semester based on the proportional increase of the base fare. Even worse is the thought of losing the ?free ride? program, forcing students to reach for $2.25 each time they travel.
Pittsburgh is not alone with this issue. Philadelphia?s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) proposed the same measures ? eliminating all weekend and holiday service along with a 20 percent reduction in weekday service for its city and suburban transit divisions. Around one quarter of a million daily riders would be left in the dust: 25 percent of their current daily ridership.
The best solution to the problem is to increase government funding of the Port Authority. Since the early 1990s, funding has either remained steady or been reduced each year. There are two bills expected to alleviate the problem ? state Senate Bill 1162 and House Bill 2697. Both have the common goal of tapping into the sales tax revenues to increase funds for transit agencies across Pennsylvania without an increase in the sales tax. In addition, a $75 million cap on the existing sales tax proposal would be lifted to encourage growing subsidies for the transit providers. The bill proposes that the funds can be used either for operating expenses or for capital projects such as the subway extensions. If passed, the measure would eliminate the Port Authority?s deficit within the first year, and the funds would grow as the measure would closely follow economic trends.
By voicing your concerns to Pennsylvania legislators through letter-writing campaigns, the transit funding may come. Act as soon as possible, as the Senate and House sessions will end at the beginning of November. Their names and addresses can be found at www.pasen.gov, which is searchable by zip code or county.