Service cuts could affect Pitt’s Port Authority contract

By Andrew Shull

Pitt’s negotiations for a new contract with the Port Authority will likely be affected by the… Pitt’s negotiations for a new contract with the Port Authority will likely be affected by the recent service cuts, which could change student transportation fees.

When the Port Authority cut its service by 15 percent last month, it might hurt students’ ability to get around. This will likely come up at the negotiating table, as Pitt’s contract with the Port Authority expires in June of next year. Pitt officials have said that they do not yet know how much the cuts have affected student transportation.

The current contract gives students, faculty and staff unlimited rides on Port Authority buses, the rail system and the inclines.

More than 20,000 of Pitt’s 29,000 graduate and undergraduate students live off-campus, and many use Port Authority services to travel to and from campus. The money for Pitt’s contribution to the Port Authority comes from the $90-per-semester transportation fee that all students pay. That fee has remained unchanged since the 2006-2007 academic year.

Pitt spokeswoman Patricia White said in an e-mail that Pitt’s agreement with the Port Authority included “language acknowledging that the compensation paid by the University is in consideration for a certain level and type of service.”

She said in the e-mail that Pitt would ask for a reduction in compensation if it discovers that the service cuts did have an effect on overall University ridership, although she said Pitt has yet to do a formal study on the impact of those cuts. She said that Pitt would try to determine whether the Pitt community was affected by the cuts and ask for lower compensation if it had been.

Jim Ritchie, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said that the issue of lower fees was something both sides expected to address while negotiations begin on a new contract.

According to a report the Port Authority sent to the state legislature in 2009, the five-year contract that Pitt negotiated called for a 15 percent increase in fees every year, causing Pitt’s fees to the Port Authority to double over the five years of the contract.

In the report, Pitt initially paid just under $3.9 million, and CMU paid $881,000 in their first years. It did not include information on the 2010 compensation, although it would be about $6.81 million, according to the 15 percent increases in Pitt’s agreement.

Carnegie Mellon University — which uses the same bus routes as Pitt — negotiated a similar contract with the Port Authority, except with a smaller annual payment, and the same percentage increases over the same time period.

Neither University commented on whether they are currently seeking lower payments to the Port Authority, although Ken Walters — who works in the media relations office at CMU — said that the university does discuss service issues regularly with the Port Authority.

Whether Pitt will lower its fees to the Port Authority — and if those savings will be passed onto its students — remains to be seen over the course of the negotiations.

“This isn’t something that will unfold in the next few days,” Ritchie said.