17 days from the beginning of its new fiscal year and the Port Authority of Allegheny County is warning that it faces a $50.6 million dollar deficit. PAT spokesman Jim Ritchie says the transit agency has faced budget deficits in the past but this is a unique situation..."The thing that's different this time is that it's not an expense problem at Port Authority, it's a revenue problem...from the state."
PAT gets about 50% of its operating resources from the state and Ritchie says since Act 44 (transportation funding law) was passed 3 years ago, they've averaged a quarter of a percent increase in state funding while health care costs and fuel costs have spiked.
PAT is expected a $25 million reduction in state assistance this year because Act 44 has not generated anticipated revenues for highways, bridges and mass transit.
Ritchie says the agency has "done its part" through $52 million in annual savings in retirement benefits and higher employee health care and pension contributions.
"If the legislature does not find a solution to this statewide problem, we do have to turn to service cuts and fare increases....there is no other way for us."
Service could by cut by as much as 25%. Ritchie says they don't want to raise fares for Zone 1 core riders because the $2 fares pay for the cost of operating those routes. But on routes to and from outlying suburbs, the cost is $6, $7 and even $8 per rider while they are paying $2.75 for their fare. Ritchie says that's because there is one bus with a certain group of riders who take the bus all the way to downtown Pittsburgh and there is no turnover of seats...."that's why there is state funding to help pay for this service that is essential."
PAT staffers are putting together a plan for the board to consider at its June 25th meeting and it may include eliminating 30 routes, late evening and weekend service and fares for suburban riders as high as $7.