When the Port Authority of Allegheny County was formed the state gave the governing board the job of signing off on the plans of any private bus operator wanting to work in Allegheny County. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) is now trying to give that oversight roll to the Public Utility Commission. His effort took a big step forward Tuesday when the House passed legislation to make the change.
Turzai believes the Port Authority has been standing in the way of private companies who want to run routes in the county but he does not think the bill would create a free-for-all situation. “They have to meet requirements with respect to rates, safety, insurance and the like,” said Turzai, “But it does allow for competition in Allegheny County with the Port Authority.”
PAT Spokesman Jim Ritchie disputes Turzai’s claim, “We receive a number of applications each year to run service each year, the most recent being the Lenzner service in the North Hills, and I think for the most part we have approved almost all of these applications, at least in the last few years.” Lenzner Coach Lines successfully petitioned to offer service from two locations in the North Hills to downtown Pittsburgh after PAT eliminated a similar run.
The Authority is officially taking a “relatively neutral” stance on the bill. “Its more of a regulatory change,” said Ritchie, “It does not effect our day-to-day operations.”
The Union has come out strong against the bill saying it is a union busting move and the next step toward fully privatizing mass transit in the county. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 President Pat McMahon says the private companies will come in and “cherry pick” the good routes using non-union labor. He says that will eventually lead to the end of the Port Authority and service to many communities.
Rep. Turzai says there are already under served communities and destinations. “Some people want to get to Ross Park Mall, some people want to get South Hills Village, some people want to have the opportunity to come to a place of work out in Cranberry, some people want to have a chance to get to a place of work out at the airport. The Port Authority has never been able to think entrepreneurially about where people want to get to,” said Turzai. The Republican from the north hills said he thinks PAT’s management is willing to think differently by the union is standing in its way.
Turzai sees private providers providing an “overlay” of service in the county. He said it will be up to the entrepreneurs to decided where that extra service will be offered.