Port Authority plans service cuts

By Emily Riley

Pitt’s promotional materials declare, “The city is our campus,” but come March, students… Pitt’s promotional materials declare, “The city is our campus,” but come March, students might have trouble getting to parts of it by bus.

Pitt students arrived back in Oakland after break to news that the Port Authority would cut more than 30 percent of its bus routes at the end of March. The Port Authority also plans to hike fares and reduce service in general at that time.

The service cut will include the reduction of some routes and the complete elimination of others. In addition, some buses will not operate on certain days of the week, in particular on the weekends.

Several dozen communities will lose Port Authority service altogether, and although Oakland is not one of them, campus life will still likely change.

The free bus rides that Pitt students receive with their Panther Cards will not be affected by the cuts. But Jim Ritchie, director of public relations at the Port Authority, said that all bus routes will be affected in some capacity.

Diana Edwards, a 20-year Port Authority rider and employee of the University of Pittsburgh at UPMC Montefiore hospital, was not concerned with the new changes but hopes that they will lead to alternate transportation options.

“I guess the Port Authority is trying to be more efficient. Hopefully it will encourage more biking,” Edwards said. “But of course biking is not feasible in the winter.”

Some Pitt faculty are concerned for those who rely regularly on the Port Authority system. Katz Business School professor Russ Robbins said these changes are just part of how the world works.

“They have to do what they have to do. I just hope that when deciding what routes to cut, they fully considered the individuals who strongly rely on public transportation for everyday things such as getting to work and getting to a doctor’s appointment,” Robbins said.

Some Pitt students shared the same sentiment.

“Many of the people who rely on Port Authority are living in the areas where the bus routes will be eliminated. How are these people supposed to get to work? Buy groceries? Run errands?” Pitt junior Hilary Nykwest asked.

Others do not foresee these changes as having a large effect on the transportation system. Jessica Schrand, a Pitt sophomore, uses the bus system to get to and from her work in Downtown. “I feel as if it won’t cause a huge change to the current situation. I just hope they don’t change the bus numbers again,” she said.

With the routes being cut, many in the community have argued that sustainable transportation alternatives must be found.

Senior Erin Ross uses Port Authority to get to her job Downtownabout three days per week and considered the future changes.

“I guess I will have to grab a taxi late at night on the weekends or drive myself. There are already enough times when I have to run out of work to catch the 2 a.m. buses,” Ross said.

“What they should do is heavily cut back on the day services and try to avoid cutting the morning and early evening services from the time of 4 to 6:30 [p.m.],” Edwards said. “The buses are already crowded enough at those times.”

Ritchie said the Port Authority’s board of directors voted on the decision and that the service reductions will definitely occur in 2011.

“Unless [the state] resolves the issue with their transportation budget, the decisions made by the board will not be reversed,” Ritchie said.

Earlier this year the Port Authority reported a deficit of more than $40 million in the 2011 annual operating budget. The deficit came from a failure of the state to fund the Port Authority’s budget, according to the organization’s budget documents available online. The proposed rout and services changes will fill that gap.

Act 44, the state transportation funding bill, originally included revenue from tolling I-80, which was not approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Since that plan fell through, the state has not increased funding to the Port Authority.

Ritchie said cuts will continue to occur each year if alternate, sustainable revenue sources are not found. The board is already reviewing the budget for the following year and anticipates another significant reduction, he said.