Save Our Transit Rally

Last Monday, the Pittsburgh organization Save Our Transit rallied to improve funding for public transportation. The gathering, held in the portico of the City-County Building, was intended to raise awareness of the budget deficit that is currently plaguing much of Pennsylvania?s public transportation system. The purpose of the rally was to support the passage of two bills that would substantially increase state funding for public transportation. Among the speakers were State Senator Sean Logan, State Representative Don Walko, and City Council member Bill Peduto.

?Simply put, the present funding streams for public transit operations in Pennsylvania are unreliable. They never bring in enough revenue. As a result the funding never is able to keep up with constantly increasing operating costs,? said Stephen Donahue, co-founder of Save Our Transit, an ad hoc group of regular Port Authority riders who fight for the funding needed to keep public transit running. The group is independent of the Port Authority. ?We have been fighting for three years for the state legislature to deal with this problem and we might see some progress this year with Senate Bill 1162 and House Bill 2697.?

According to the Save Our Transit press release, Senate Bill 1162 and its companion House Bill 2697 will increase state funding for public transit by $282 million. Approximately $64 million would be appropriated to the Port Authority. If these bills fail to pass, public transportation in Allegheny County will face major service cuts in 2005 in order to balance a $30 million budget deficit.

?Our main goal is to make folks aware that public transit in Pennsylvania, including our own Port Authority, is in big trouble. Each year the operating deficits get higher. We want the public to know that if these bills do not pass then we might well be looking at the end of public transit in our state ? and that includes Pittsburgh,? said Donahue.

According to Donahue, the results of this deficit could have a serious effect on local college students. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), which serves Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, announced last week that unless increased operating funding is found, they will end all weekend service starting on January 1, 2005. If nothing happens in the state legislature, the local Port Authority will also be forced to make drastic service cuts by March 1, 2005. It is considering ending all weekend service and all service after 9 pm on weekdays.

?For college students, this would be a major blow to being able to get around,? said Donahue.

Without weekend and evening bus services, Carnegie Mellon students would be greatly affected.

?Since most activities in Pittsburgh aren?t centered around where we are, such as the South Side and Station Square, we need the buses. I don?t want to have to pay for a cab,? said Greg Zborowski, a first-year physics major.

?It would cut off Duquesne-CMU and Pitt-CMU relations significantly,? agreed Max Martinelli, a sophomore math major.
According to Tim Vining, executive director of the Thomas Merton Center, cutting public transportation would have other repercussions. ?Much of the wars and conflicts in the world today are over cheap and easy access to oil in order to fuel our auto-dependent lifestyles. A viable and expanded mass transit plays a key role in providing an alternative to the automobile and all the social and environmental problems it has caused.?
There are several ways in which concerned students may get involved. ?We have a postcard campaign going on right now to get support for [the bills]. Students in Oakland area can look forward to seeing fellow bus riders asking them to sign these cards. We want to flood the state capitol with these post cards,? said Donahue.

Additionally, Save Our Transit is taking a bus trip to Harrisburg on Tuesday, October 5, to join in a state wide rally for public transit funding.

?Save Our Transit is rallying now because the legislators are about to go back to Harrisburg and we want them to make the passage of these bills a major priority,? said Donahue. ?It?s do or die. The state must fix the problem of chronic funding shortfalls or public transit in Pennsylvania will just die.... It?s that simple.?