Saturday, January 21, 2012

Massive transit cuts ahead. Again?!

As our readers will recall, about a year ago we had posted the news about 15% service cut that became effective March 2011: The Board of Port Authority approves 15% cuts for March 2011 We also explained the reasons why Port Authority's Board decided to approve the service cuts - and, if you recall, the main reason was the agency's decision to apply only part of the funds provided by former governor Ed Rendell to cover the 47 million budget deficit for FY 2010. The Board approved the Agency's decision to use the rest of the money in order to cover the deficit for FY 2011 (June 2011-June 2012),  hoping that after a year in office newly elected Governor Tom Corbett would be able to come up with a legislative solution for the transportation funding issues in Pennsylvania in general, and Port Authority's funding issues in particular.

But where does Governor Corbett stand on transportation funding issues? The problem is that Governor Tom Corbett so far has said little about transportation funding. In fact, he stated "that a new transportation bill is not a top priority for his administration this year"(2011, Read more:

New cuts, fare increases announced January 18th

Meantime, the Port Authority announced on January 18th a new round of massive service cuts come September 2012 due to a 64 million budget shortfall for FY 2012. The projected cuts will impact 35% of the current service provide by the Agency. Out of its current 102 routes, 46 will be eliminated and the rest will  face service reductions. This time around, the service cuts will impact the ACCESS service which is designed to provide transportation for people with disabilities.

If you want to find out more about the projected cuts and how service will be affected in your area , the Port Authority provides a comprehensive list of its projection on its Service Reduction page.

At this point, however, it is important to stress that these service cuts and fare increases are only in a proposal stage. And most importantly, we may avoid facing service cuts and fare increases again, if a dedicated funding source is found for the Agency's Operational Budget.

One way to tackle the budget deficit is to deal with the "legacy costs" such as pensions and retiree healthcare. We do expect new contract negotiations to start as early as January and we do anticipate that the Port Authority will ask for union concessions as part of the negotiations. However as positive as union concessions may be in finding  a solution to the budget deficit, they are not going to stop the decline in the Agency's ability to provide a comprehensive service in the area.

In a Q&A session that took place during the ACTC's General Meeting on January18, the Agency's Government Affairs Representative, Dan DeBone, noted that in order to stop the projected service cuts the "biggest impact will be made by funding and not by union concessions". 

About a funding solution

"Activists and the Port Authority, meanwhile, are trying to garner support for a package of bills from state Reps. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) and Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill). The bills offer several funding suggestions, many similar to those in a report made by Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Committee in August.

Frankel's bill would, among other things, grant mass-transit systems the entire $450 million annual payment that the PA Turnpike Commission makes to the state. Frankel also seeks to increase transit's share of state sales-tax revenue, from 4.4 percent to 6.4 percent of the annual take" notes Lauren Daley from the City Paper in her most recent article: Bumpy Ride: Port Authority getting set for massive service cuts, rate hikes. Miss Daley, a seasoned reporter when it comes to public transit, echoes the statements made by Allegheny County's Executive, Rich Fitzgerald and House State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) during their 1/19/2012 press conference.

Eleven democrat legislators from the area rallied yesterday beyond County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for a press conference devoted to the support of Frankel's bill. The bill focuses not only on funding public transit, but also on funding for transportation/ infrastructure development meant to create jobs in the area and revitalize Pennsylvania's economy.  "This bills create jobs. Good paying jobs," stated Rep. Frankel yesterday.

One major problem Democrat legislators will face as they are trying to pass these bills is getting the support of their Republican colleagues. And, as Mr. DeBone noted during the Q&A session on 1/18, even though there are Republican legislators who are willing to support these bills, none is willing to step up as long as Governor Corbett does not take a clear position on transportation funding. The same issue was noted by the Democrat legislators present at the press conference called by County Executive Fitzgerald yesterday: most of their Republican colleagues will not stand beyond any legislative initiative regarding transportation until Governor Corbett clearly states his position.

This is why, when it comes to find a solution for Port Authority's funding woes and to stop more service cuts from taking place, we have to return to the same question: Where does Governor Corbett stand on the transportation funding issues?

We want to thank Lauren Daley from the City Paper for her valuable coverage of public transportation issues, Chris Sandvig from the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group for his support and tweets covering yesterday's press conference, and all the Post-Gazette reporters covering transit related news and articles.

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