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Hungry for Mass Transit

Bus fans fast, saying Rendell is too slow restoring bus funds

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It's hard to imagine now, but not too long ago the new administration of Gov. Ed Rendell seemed a ray of hope for Pennsylvania's long-suffering mass transit systems. Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor, talked the talk on public transit, and once even lent an unscheduled campaign-trail ear to advocates here. But Rendell's subsequent budget hit transit so hard that the Port Authority of Allegheny County is considering cuts to bus, trolley and paratransit service. Proposed cuts include eliminating all trips after 9 p.m., cutting Sunday service, drastically reducing Saturday service and instituting a fare hike -- its third in as many years.

Rendell might not be the only one to blame -- stingy budgeting by prior administrations, for instance, didn't help -- but the governor was the prime target when transit activists rallied June 23 outside the State Office Building, Downtown. "If Gov. Rendell does not work in our interest, we need to get him out," Ayanna King, director of the Pittsburgh Transportation Equity Project, told about 70 demonstrators gathered to kick off a 25-hour fast and vigil intended to get the cuts restored. Pat Clark, a member of the UV Loop board of directors, called shortchanging mass transit "basic stupidity in government" and added "I thought I elected a Democratic governor. I want an actual Democratic governor."

Along with vigil organizer Steve Donahue of Save Our Transit, others who stood in front of a pile of the vigil-keepers' backpacks and sleeping bags to speak included Myron Arnowit of Clean Water Action, Neil Bisno of the Service Employees International Union -- which says it has collected 8,000 signatures on a petition opposing the cuts -- and the protest-singing Raging Grannies. When Donahue mentioned that some Pitt students were heading to Harrisburg to lobby for restoring the transit cuts, someone in the crowd yelled, "Take Ed Rendell's bus!"

At press time, Donahue said about a dozen were expected to participate in the fast. Few at the rally were comforted by the recent news that the Port Authority will delay its cuts and hikes in hopes that state budget talks will turn up enough funds to plug the Port Authority's $19 million budget gap. The ralliers demanded a permanent solution, one with a dedicated funding stream for mass transit statewide. "What I don't want is to come back next year and go through the same damn thing," said John Tague, of Open Doors for the Handicapped.

Meanwhile, led by Donahue to the tune of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" the demonstrators asked in song, "Will the buses still be running by the time Rendell is done? If they are not, he had better, better be on his way home."

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