Disabled Residents, Commuters Speak Out Against Planned Port Authority Cuts
Public transit riders testify today before the Allegheny County Port Authority Board of Directors on planned wide-scale service reductions.
Eric Lindey said looming cuts to Allegheny County public transportation will devastate more than 3,000 clients of Milestone Centers Inc., a Wilkinsburg-based nonprofit that provides services for people with mental disabilities.
The impact may be greatest on those who live in the county's suburban communities, said Lindey, director of the center's intellectual and developmental disability services.
"It's services, medical appointments, the grocery store," he said. "They depend on ACCESS [Paratransit) to get around, and this will only disenfranchise them more than they already are. Towns in eastern Allegheny will be decimated by this."
Hundreds of county residents—many of them people with disabilities or commuters—testified today against a Port Authority of Allegheny County plan to cut overall service by 35 percent and eliminate 40 of the agency's 102 routes.
Testimony will continue before the authority's Board of Directors until 8 p.m. at the David E. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh. Comments also may be submitted until 4 p.m. March 9 through the Port Authority website or mailed to Port Authority Fare & Service Proposals, Heinz 57 Center, 345 Sixth Avenue, Floor 3, Pittsburgh PA, 15222-2527.
The plan would end all public bus service in some communities, including Moon, Coraopolis and Sewickley. In addition, the proposal would limit the authority's ACCESS service for the handicapped to the minimum requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
More than 1,300 ACCESS riders could lose service under the plan, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"It's a huge issue," Lindey said. "(Our clients) are concerned. They're upset. This is beyond a transportation issue."
Facing a $64 million projected deficit, the authority plans to scale back or eliminate its routes in a move that will affect as many as 45,000 riders from around the region. The proposed reductions are the largest in the Port Authority's 47-year history.
Agency officials have acknowledged the cuts would be "devastating," but they maintain the action is necessary to offset reductions in state aid that has comprised more than of the authority's revenue as well as increased fuel and employee retirement costs.
Under the reductions, the Airport Flyer bus will end all service beyond the Robinson Towne Center on weekdays and weekends. That would end outbound bus service to the Pittsburgh International Airport and possibly require a name change for the route, according to the authority.
The Moon Flyer also would be eliminated. Other communities slated to lose Port Authority service include Edgeworth, North Fayette, Forest Hills and Verona.
Greentree borough manager W. David Montz, in testimony today, said his community in recent years has invested more than $400,000 in transportation infrastructure, including the installation of new sidewalks and a Park-n-Ride lot with 182 permitted lots.
"This will not only affect Greentree, but the entire regional economy," Montz said. "Everyday you hear that the Parkway is backed up from Greentree to the tunnels. What's next? From Robinson to the tunnels?"
Bus fare on multiple routes, including the cost of purchasing a weekly, monthly or annual transit pass, will increase under the proposed plan.
The authority's board is scheduled to meet April 27 to finalize the reduction plan and fare increases. In November 2010, the board authorized a 35 percent reduction cut, but then-Gov. Ed Rendell authorized $45 million in emergency aid, reducing the cuts to 15 percent.
Trevor Smith, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, said city bus routes enabled him to take on an internship before graduation.
"So much of my education comes from outside the classroom, through the Port Authority and public transit," he said. "I use the bus to get to my internship, to training, to meetings.
"There are all of these opportunities that I wouldn't have without the Port Authority."