by Lauren Daley
The Port Authority board of directors today approved a plan that would implement deep service cuts, massive layoffs and a fare increase to deal with a $64 million budget deficit.
The plan, set to go into effect Sept. 2, slashes service of 46 routes, reduces the remaining routes, eliminates service after 10 p.m. for all but 13, and shutters the Collier operating division. For the first time in the agency's history, paratransit service through ACCESS would also be severely reduced. Between 500-600 positions will be eliminated.
Fare increases go into effect in July.
Port Authority brass described the cuts -- the deepest in the transit agency's history -- as a dark day for the region.
"Who really thinks that making Pittsburgh's region's roadway conditions and parking worse is a good idea? Why of all things would we want to cut vital connections to jobs?" Steve Bland, CEO of the agency, said to the board. "None of it makes any sense."
Bland, along with other agency leaders and transit advocates and workers, continued the drumbeat that the state needs a dedicated funding stream for transportation. The state's funding mechanism collapsed when the federal government refused to toll Interstate 80, a linchpin to generate more transportation dollars in the state.
"The missing piece of the puzzle," Bland said, "is a lasting, permanent solution to the way we fund public transportation in the Commonwealth."
While the board approved the service reduction, many today painted the state as the hold-up in averting the cuts.
Patrick McMahon, president and business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, said he's tired of offering concession agreements when the state doesn't address the funding issue. Their current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of June.
"We can't make a deal with Port Authority on a labor contract without knowing what the state is going to do," he told the board.
"We are not ATMs who can be rung for more cash every time politicians fail to live up to their responsibilities."
McMahon asked the board to vote against the cuts "and put the onus on the state" to either shut the system down or offer a funding stream.
While Gov. Tom Corbett's own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission offered a report earlier this year with revenue-generating suggestions, it's not clear what, if anything, Corbett will do with it. Corbett has been clear, however, that he isn't planning any last minute flexes that former Gov. Ed Rendell frequently did to stave off cuts in the eleventh hour.
In an interview with KDKA's Jon Delano Thursday, Corbett said the state is looking to the county, Port Authority and union to come up with the solution.
"In years past, the state has been able to produce that money and solve that. We don't have that money," he told Delano.
Agency brass, the union and county executive Rich Fitzgerald are scheduled to meet with the Governor's office next week.
Outside of the authority's Downtown headquarters, ATU members and supporters rallied against the cuts, many with signs against the governor. "Tom Corbett Corporate Prostitute" read one, while someone else yelled "Corbett's a piece of shit!" Others chanted "They say cut back we say fight back."
McMahon told the crowd of about 100 it was time for Corbett to take the lead.
"We need to push the governor," he shouted. "He's the only one who can stop the cuts."