Bus service not reduced in September, Port Authority says

Contrary to what was written in The Tartan’s Sept. 10 article, “Port Authority reduces bus service by 10 percent,” the Port Authority of Allegheny County did not further reduce their service in September as originally planned. Thanks to Act 44, which was passed in July and will allow for the tolling of I-80 as a source of revenue. The Port Authority was able to receive sufficient funding to eliminate its $80 million deficit.

Although legislation has been released forbidding the tolling of federal highways, the Port Authority will continue to move ahead with Act 44.

“Congress hasn’t begun to consider [the opposing legislation] yet, and so we’re moving forward,” said Robert Grove, Port Authority director of media relations.

The Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission, directed in 2005 to investigate the funding crisis faced by Pennsylvania’s highway, bridge, and transit systems, produced a full report addressing problems and calling on the Port Authority to reform its policies. Along with Act 44, the Port Authority has taken several other steps to pull itself out of a deficit and to address the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission’s call for business reforms. The Port Authority held a series of six public workshops to evaluate the efficiency of rail and bus services.

As a result, the Port Authority instituted a broad series of cost-saving initiatives.

One of these is Connect ‘09, an 18-month initiative that hopes to connect individual neighborhoods with the larger Pittsburgh region by allowing all regional operators to pick up and discharge patrons throughout all of Allegheny County. For this, they plan on enhancing the coordination of transit services and adopting a regional fare collection system based on smart card technology.

With this project, the Port Authority hopes to prove that it will be able to run as efficiently as possible once it receives new funding, such as toll revenues from I-80.

Only non-represented employees, those not under a union, were affected by the cost-saving initiatives. Over 90 percent of Port Authority employees are unionized.

The Port Authority accelerated the departure of employees in a Deferred Retirement Options plan, and eliminated both “lifetime health care” and their $500 monthly pension plans.
By June 30, the Port Authority had eliminated 374 budgeted positions and instituted 203 layoffs.

Port Authority’s next step is to address legacy costs, the obligation to pay pensions and health care costs for both retirees and current employees as part of those employees’ benefits plan.

To make the necessary changes, the Port Authority must hold a series of collective bargaining talks with labor unions. The talks have yet to formally begin, but the Port Authority insists that they will be scheduled sometime before the union agreement expires Jan. 1, 2008.

“Much of our cost structure has to be addressed through cost bargaining. We do have the unilateral power to change management and pension plans, which we changed six months ago. We’re doing everything we can on the managerial end, and our goal is to gain a lot of savings in the collective bargaining agreement that is coming up with the several workers’ unions,” Grove said.

A fare increase will take effect Jan. 1, 2008, but the Port Authority has yet to determine the amount of the raise or the fare structure.

However, in order to gain expected millions more in revenue, a Port Authority committee has proposed to raise the currently discounted ride fee for Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh students. The University of Pittsburgh currently pays $282,000 per month for this service, and Carnegie Mellon pays $64,000 per month.

The proposal has recommended a 15 percent increase per year for five years. However, Carnegie Mellon has a reserve to protect against a significant increase, and the university expects the student fee increase to fall under 15 percent.

“The fee generally changes every year. In this case, I believe that we will be able to keep the increase for next year at no more than $2 to $3 per semester,” said Michael Murphy, associate vice president of enrollment services. “Our current reserve will allow us to keep the student fee below the 15 percent, likely between 5 and 10 percent.”

Murphy expects the Port Authority to authorize the 15 percent increase by Friday. Carnegie Mellon will hold further discussions in October before signing any final agreement.
The the new agreement will take effect in November.

“We have had a very positive relationship with the Port Authority, and it is clear that students value the service,” Murphy said. “PAT [Port Authority] has been clear for some time that our negotiated fee was well below their standard fare, and that at some point we would need to increase our negotiated rate.”