A Port Authority committee today advanced a plan for massive service reductions and fare increases across the transit system. The full board will vote on the measures next week.
If the plan goes through, 46 routes will be eliminated, the Collier operating division will close, and 500-600 positions will be eliminated on Sept. 2. Fares in Zone 1 will increase by a quarter in Zone 1 and 50 cents in Zone 2 in July.
Additionally, paratransit service through the ACCESS program will also be cut for the first time, stranding what the Authority and disability advocates have said is the county's most vulnerable population.
"In previous cuts I could take comfort" that ACCESS would still be able to provide service, said Guy Mattola, chairman of the Planning and Development Committee. But this time, "We would be abandoning people who don't have choices."
The Port Authority offers door-to-door service via ACCESS between any two points within the county and up to 1.5 miles into neighboring ones. Under the proposal, the service area would shrink down to ¾ of a mile within a fixed route -- the requirement under federal law.
But Karen Hoesch, executive director of ACCESS, and other Port Authority officials are advocating to preserve the service. Hoesch says that under the state's funding mechanism for transportation, every county except Allegheny receives funding to provide ACCESS program through something known as Programs of Statewide Significance.
Hoesch said she's trying to rally the disability community to lobby state legislators to change the funding distribution to include Allegheny County. "At this point it's a matter of equity. We're facing losing so much," she said. "We all want the same things."
The authority's successes with the more than 30-year-old program -- it goes well above what's federally required for riders with disabilities and become a model in the country -- have, in a way, cost it today. As Hoesch said, "[The state] doesn't pay for it because we've always had it."
Authority CEO Steve Bland told the committee that any plans approved at next week's board committee could be reversed should the state solve its transportation funding problem and the authority receives adequate concession from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, who is working on a new collective bargaining agreement. And after meeting with county executive Rich Fitzgerald and Gov. Tom Corbett in March, Bland said he is hopeful for the authority's future.
"This day and next Friday are going to be tough days in the history of the authority," he said. "Hopefully they will be historical footnotes that there are better days to come."