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June 26, 2003

A deadline looms to continue the ride-for-free service on public transportation

A deadline is looming to continue the ride-for-free service on public transportation for Pittsburgh campus employees and students with valid I.D. cards.

The agreement between Pitt and the Port Authority of Allegheny County will expire July 31 if the two sides do not agree on re-negotiated fees, a Port Authority spokesperson said.

Two years ago, Pitt and the Port Authority extended their contract, in place since 1997, and established an annual fee schedule for five years. In the current contract year, Pitt is paying $2.52 million from Aug. 1, 2002, to July 31, 2003. That fee was the annual amount agreed to through July 31, 2006, absent re-negotiation.

But the transit company advised Pitt last fall of its desire to raise the University’s annual fee to be more in line with the per-ride average fare of all customers.

Port Authority officials maintain that, taking into account all sources of fare income including cash, discounted passes and other pre-paid fares, the company currently receives on average $1.10 for each ride. In contrast, the University’s payment, averaged out over Pitt ridership, comes to 46-47 cents per ride.

Port Authority data indicate that Pitt customers average about 450,000 rides per month.

The Port Authority raised its rates by 25 percent on all pre-paid fare packages beginning last Sept. 1, but decided to wait until this year to approach Pitt about re-negotiating future fees.

This April, the Port Authority proposed a new fee schedule, but Pitt has not responded, according to Grove.

“Right now, the ball is in Pitt’s court,” Grove said. If the current contract should expire before new fees are agreed to, he said, then Pitt riders would have to pay the regular fees, currently $1.75 for base fares.

“I don’t expect that to happen,” Grove said. “I feel both sides want to work this out. Our [mid-April] proposal to Pitt was built on previous conversations, which were cordial. It’s just that Pitt has yet to respond. There’s still some time to get it done.”

Robert Hill, Pitt vice chancellor for Public Affairs, said, “I have a report that negotiations are ongoing and have been productive, and I expect this to come to a successful conclusion in the very near future” before the July 31 deadline. He declined to give details.

Grove declined to reveal specifics of the transit company’s recent request, but said the general goal over the next 3-4 years is to get Pitt in the 88-90 cents per-ride range, with incremental increases in the annual fee.

In recent public statements, Port Authority officials say the company faces as much as a $19 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, the result of higher expenses, reduced state assistance and fewer riders, among other factors.

The Port Authority board is expected to adopt a resolution at tomorrow’s (June 27) meeting to continue to maintain service and fares at the current levels, pending final fiscal budget decisions by the state legislature.

Depending on the legislature’s action, the Port Authority, which is required by law to have a balanced budget, may have to raise fares or cut services or both, Grove said.

However, whatever steps the Port Authority takes to balance its budget does not affect the company’s goal with respect to Pitt: to get Pitt more in line with average fares, Grove said.

Pitt’s annual fee to the Port Authority is subsidized in part by the $75 per term security, safety and transportation fee that Pittsburgh campus students pay. The balance comes from the auxiliary operations budget of the Office of Parking, Transportation and Services.

Hill said that the $75 student fee will not go up this year.

—Peter Hart

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