When Troy Hill residents got wind of changes to their bus service planned for September, they organized early to let the Port Authority know they aren't happy about losing a direct line to the East Allegheny, Allegheny Center and Central North Side areas. Little did they know how bad it could get.
Changes are already slated for Sept. 5 as part of an ongoing Port Authority improvement plan that reschedules and modifies more than 70 routes, including the 6A Troy Hill. But Port Authority officials acknowledge that January could see a wave of cuts, courtesy of a $47.1 million budget shortfall. The transit agency plans to announce today (July 21) a proposal that will leave 55 neighborhoods with severely reduced or eliminated bus or light-rail service to make up the difference.
"Overall the [September changes] help our system," says spokesman Jim Ritchie. "But the things we have to do to balance our budget ... this isn't a small cut. This is going to be huge."
Before the Port Authority planned to announce the September route changes and proposed January cuts, rumors were swirling on the buses and the street, leaving riders like Lillian Rausch concerned. The 89-year-old Troy Hill resident relies on the bus at least three times a week. She says she alerted her neighborhood citizen's group when she got wind of changes to the 6A Troy Hill. "There aren't many buses that go along East Ohio Street. It affects a lot of people."
The 6A currently runs between Ross Garage and Downtown through Mount Troy, Reserve Township and Troy Hill via Mount Troy Road. It travels down East Ohio Street and goes around Allegheny Commons before crossing into Downtown via the Ninth Street Bridge. In September, the route will change to "4 Troy Hill" and no longer serve the Mount Troy extension and Allegheny Commons. Instead of turning onto East Ohio Street from Chestnut, it will take Chestnut to the 16th Street Bridge. PAT will also introduce a weekday off-peak variant, so some trips will serve only the segment between Troy Hill and Downtown, according to officials. It will also end Sunday service.
According to PAT's Transit Development Plan, 6A's ridership decreased 20 percent from 2006 to 2008. The plan notes that while ridership closer to downtown Pittsburgh is good, it's very light between the Ross Garage and Troy Hill. But that's a notion Troy Hill Citizens Inc. says is shortsighted. On July 15, the THCI sent the Port Authority a letter opposing the changes and the lack of community input, and requesting a meeting with PAT reps. "I realize they're under a budget shortfall, but it seems like a trend," says Nicole Moga, of the THCI. "Maybe instead of cutting services, maybe we could have a dialogue about what's not working. It doesn't seem like anything is a public service any more."
Losing access to the Central North Side and East Allegheny area "is the nail in the coffin of our already struggling neighborhood," says Jonathan Fobear, another Troy Hill rider.
Ritchie understands their concerns, but says they will be dwarfed by the larger picture if the new proposed cuts go through. In January, if proposed route cuts are approved by the PAT board, the new and streamlined "4 Troy Hill" will itself lose weekend service and see reduced weekday services.
"Because of the financial situation, their losses are going to be even greater," observes Ritchie. Further, about 300 to 500 employees from union-represented operators to non-represented management will be laid off.
Perhaps most damaging will be route cuts, proposed to take effect Jan. 9, which will result in a 35 percent service reduction system-wide, Ritchie says. More than 50 routes will be eliminated, including event service to Steelers' games; the 1F to Millvale, the 41G to Dormont, the 65 to Squirrel Hill and the 77A to Oakmont. Others will lose weekend service, like the 6A in Troy Hill and routes to neighborhoods like Lincoln-Lemington and Homestead. Others, like the EBA, will see a reduction of weekday and weekend services.
And even with all of the changes, Ritchie says, at best the plan is a one-year fix. "The problem for us isn't the expense of operating the system. The problem is the state didn't come through with transit funding established under state law."
Meanwhile, transit activists are trying to come up with ideas to help soften the blow of September adjustments. Jonathan Robison, president of the Allegheny County Transit Council, says that the authority has agreed in principle to "lifeline routes" on lines that will be reduced, like Troy Hill.
As for the proposed cuts, Robison urges that riders contact their legislators. He fears that if state money doesn't come through, "this could mean the end of Port Authority as we know it."
"There's no way [this extent of cuts] can be done reasonably," he says. "It's like doing heart surgery with a meat axe."