As a city resident who relies on Allegheny County's Port Authority bus service, Stephen Donahue is a self-described "captive rider." Now that the Port Authority has announced plans to hike fares and slash service -- from 213 to 92 routes on weekdays, from 100 to 45 on Saturdays -- Donahue may be headed for solitary confinement.
The cuts are an effort to reduce an expected $80 million budget deficit in 2008, and the possible first step to receiving annual, consistent funding from the state. Securing such funding has been a goal of Save Our Transit, to which Donahue belongs. But the cost is exorbitant, group members feel.
"The urban core is pretty much untouched, but the suburban routes were clearly the hardest hit," says Donahue. "If I want to get between Bloomfield and Oakland, then the system is perfect; but if I want to go anywhere else, then I'm out of luck. They're making us prisoners of our own neighborhoods. I've never been to South Park and, thanks to these cuts, I guess I never will."
Donahue and SOT Chairperson Amanda Zeiders say the county's deep cuts will be a terrible burden for those who depend on bus service. More than an inconvenience for riders, the route terminations will destroy Port Authority service in many areas.
"It's not a matter in all areas of walking a little further to catch a different stop," Zeiders says. "I take the 46F [Prospect Park and Baldwin Highlands] to work and, once these cuts go into effect, that bus is gone -- there is no other way for me to get out there. I don't think the transportation budget should be balanced on the backs of the workers and the riders. They should have worked on developing a decent service before deciding that cuts were the answer.
"The truth is," she adds, "ridership was low because the service stinks."
Several areas will be completely without service, from Cranberry-Warrendale to Lower Burrell, Baldwin, Whitehall, McDonald, Oakdale, Moon, West Deer, the Pittsburgh Mills mall and Pittsburgh International Airport.
"They say they're saving [the bus system], but they're not" says Donahue. "They're killing it."
Port Authority Spokesperson Bob Grove says the agency realizes that many people are going to be affected, but there's no way around the need to cut.
"There is no question that some people won't have alternative services," he says. "Since we announced this, we have been hearing from people in every corner of the county who will be left without a transportation alternative. That's why it's vital that we hear from our customers, because they know our system very well. We want to know their ideas and suggestions on how we can best reconfigure our transportation system, to serve them while still giving us the savings in the budget that we have to have.
"This will be a gut-wrenching process," he adds. "We all recognize that. But it's time that we learn to live within our means to make sure that our transit system survives."
The Port Authority will hold a series of public hearings on the cuts, beginning Jan. 22 at the Pittsburgh Hilton Downtown from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. SOT will hold a rally before the meeting, beginning at 8:45 a.m. in Mellon Square on William Penn Place, from which protesters will march down to the Hilton.
"We need as many people as possible to attend this march and rally," says Donahue. "There's no need to worry. We'll get there in plenty of time to testify and stand outside and do some shouting beforehand."