The board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County has voted to stretch $45 million dollars in emergency state funding over the next 18 months rather than using it all in this fiscal year. That will lead to 15% service cuts starting in March.
The PAT board had previously approved a 35-percent service reduction to take effect in March of this year but Governor Ed Rendell came up with a plan to flex an additional $45 million to the transit agency to stave off those cuts until June of this year. The board has decided instead to cut service by 15-percent and put off any further cuts until June of 2012. PAT CEO Steve Bland says the hope is that the state will act by then to provide a better funding source for transportation statewide that will allow PAT to restore the cuts. He says that is why the cuts have been labeled by the board as “temporary.” “The 15% service reduction is a bad thing, this is service that needs to be sustained, this is service the region needs,” says Bland, “I think the clarification by calling it a temporary reduction is really sending that message that look, this is good service, this is productive service, this is important to the community and we need to be in a position to put it back.”
Bland says using the money over time will give the new governor more time to look for a permanent transportation funding solution. Something that has eluded Pennsylvania governors and legislators for decades.
In the meantime, transit union President Pat Mc Mahon says the decision to stretch out the funding only takes the pressure off incoming governor Tom Corbett and the legislature. “I have not given up on stopping this thing for March, I think it’s unconscionable that we have to go here, and I definitely do not understand the time line because at the end of the day if it’s not fixed, whether we cut a little bit now and a little bit later, we are going to lose,” says Mc Mahon. He fears that once the cuts are made they will never be restored.
McMahon says he will be in Harrisburg this week to start his campaign for better funding in time to stave off the 15 percent reductions. PAT Board members have made it clear that if additional funding comes through before March 27th they will do everything they can to stop the cuts.
The 15% reduction will mean an elimination of 29 routes impacting about 5% of PAT riders, reduction of service on another 37 weekday routes impacting an additional 45% of the system’s users, and the closure of the Harmar garage. In all, about 270 jobs will be cut. Bland says with retirements and unfilled positions added into the mix, the Authority will probable have to layoff 180 workers.
A list of routes to be eliminated or reduced can be found here.
Listen to a longer version of the story here.