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February 22, 2001

Pitt may have to pay more for its "free" Port Authority bus rides

Pitt may have to pay more to have its fac- ulty, staff and students ride Port Authority vehicles free of charge.

The University should expect a request to renegotiate the fees of the contract that enables eligible Pitt I.D. holders free rides on buses and light-rail transit, a Port Authority spokesperson said.

Pitt is in the second year of a five-year deal that went into effect Aug. 1, 1999. This year the University will pay $1.9 million in exchange for free rides for its students and employees. Fees rise incrementally each year through July 31, 2003.

The five-year deal was negotiated at $8.3 million.

But Port Authority spokesperson Bob Grove said that due to the rising costs of fuel, a smaller-than-hoped-for state subsidy and other factors, the transit company was forced to raise its fares. On April 1, fares will increase an average of 20 percent.

Grove said the Port Authority will send Pitt a proposal for an increased payment structure by the end of this month. He declined to specify how much the Port Authority would request.

The contract allows either side to insist on renegotiating the annual fees with 120 days' notice. This year's contract runs through July 31.

Joseph Phillips, director of Pitt's Parking, Transportation and Services, said that the University is waiting to receive the proposal before commenting. "This will be reviewed by the upper administration and all the appropriate committees when the time comes," Phillips said. Pitt will work toward retaining the benefit, he added.

Pitt accounts for an average of 463,000 passengers a month, Grove said, with the peak months being September and October; ridership decreases in the summer.

Students' $55 per term safety and transportation fee helps to defray the cost of the benefit. Pitt's administration subsidizes employee ridership.

In a related development, Senate budget policies committee (BPC) co-chair Philip Wion said at a BPC meeting Feb. 9 that his committee may recommend that the University negotiate free rides for those affiliated members of the University community currently unable to use the benefit.

According to Robert Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, there are two groups of people at Pitt who can access the ride-for-free benefit: fee-paying students, and faculty and staff who receive University benefits.

Pack estimated that there are more than 5,000 "Pitt affiliates" who don't fit into either of the two categories, including 2,700 volunteer faculty members (most of them in the health sciences); 250 post-doctoral fellows; 50 clinical fellows; 5 MD fellows; about 500 trainees, fellows and post-doctoral students; some unpaid staff members, and miscellaneous others, such as participants in the College of General Studies' over-60 program.

Additionally, some 850 graduate medical trainees work with Pitt faculty at UPMC Health System hospitals. These trainees are employees of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP) practice plan, not Pitt. At Pitt's recommendation, UPP negotiated its own deal with the Port Authority for free rides.

(The Port Authority has separate contracts for free rides with various groups, including Carlow College, Chatham College and Carnegie Mellon.) Wion said BPC will raise the issue of these uncovered Pitt-affiliated people, especially faculty who are teaching here as volunteers. The least Pitt can do is extend the ride-for-free benefit to them, he said.

Pack noted that providing this benefit involves a direct cost to Pitt. He said, "We can afford to be more flexible in providing benefits [to Pitt affiliates] where there is no direct cost to the institution," such as the use of Pitt's recreation facilities.

Pitt students pay for the Port Authority benefit, while faculty and staff get it as part of their benefits package, Pack said.

–Peter Hart and Bruce Steele

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