Area bus riders have known for months that service was going to be cut. But until May 21, the plan was available only as a broad, route-by-route outline. Once the county's Port Authority finally posted the new schedules on its Web site, there were a few surprises -- mostly unpleasant.
Some routes retain their weekday service, but weekend runs will be dropped. Those service reductions threaten to paralyze, almost literally, some residents who depend on bus service seven days a week.
Jeff Parker, who uses a wheelchair, says his home health aide comes to his house every morning on the 17B to help him get out of bed and get dressed. The cuts will take effect on June 17, and Parker, a human-resource manager at United Cerebral Palsy in Oakland, frets over just how he'll manage without such help. Parker and his aide live just over a mile apart in Brighton Heights, but without the bus, even that modest distance could prove a tough hike.
"She is in her 60s," says Parker. "She is not looking at riding a bicycle."
Parker says many of his disabled colleagues and clients depend on home health aides to remain independent ... and that some of them are facing the same dilemma. Without reliable bus service, says Parker, "You don't have the same control of your life any more."
Port Authority spokeswoman Carmen Bray says transit officials wouldn't want to leave any rider unserved. "We do the best we can to make sure they have some kind of service," she says, but admits: "Some people may have to walk a lot further to get to a route." Bray encourages riders to call customer service (412-442-2000) for more help planning their trips after the cuts kick in.
It could have been worse. Originally, the Port Authority planned to cut 25 percent of its service -- some 124 daily routes. But in March, the board voted to pare back the transit cuts to 15 percent.
Still, some riders are worse off than they expected. For instance, Clairton residents knew the 50B, their lifeline to McKeesport, was on the chopping block. But transit officials had promised that a re-routed 55M would provide a connection instead. When residents checked the schedules last week, however, they found that while the 50B has been cut, the 55M is not being rerouted.
"Everything for us in Clairton is over at McKeesport," says Janie Wright, 68. For Wright, that means the welfare office, her doctor and medical treatment for high blood pressure and arthritis. "We're just going to be isolated," she says. Many residents also take the 50B to the closest grocery store, in Glassport.
The 55M, though, may still be within reach for intrepid Clairton residents who cross the Ravensburg Bridge. But Wright, with her arthritic knees, says, "I'm scared to walk over the bridge. It gives me the heebie-jeebies."
Not everyone has reason to be displeased with the Port Authority's final plan. Some riders, like those who rely on Cranberry routes originally slated for termination, dodged the bullet.
At least for now. Transit officials already warned that unless there is additional government funding to cover an $80 million budget hole, riders will likely suffer the rest of the cuts in a second installment.
- Photo by Heather Mull
- Riders say the loss of several weekend routes, including the 17B, will keep them from getting essential services including health care.