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June 14, 2012

Pitt-Port Authority negotiating new ride program contract

busPitt and the Port Authority of Allegheny County are negotiating an agreement to continue the fare-free ride program for Pittsburgh-campus ID-holders. The current contract ends July 31.

Under a program launched in 1997, the University agreed to pay an annual fee in exchange for fare-free rides for Pitt ID holders on all Port Authority vehicles throughout Allegheny County.

Pitt signed a five-year agreement extension in 2007. Under that extension, Pitt is paying the transit company a total of $6.8 million this year (Aug. 1, 2011-July 31) in exchange for the free rides.

The expiring contract calls for a renegotiation of the annual fee to be triggered by the installation of “smart card” technology. That program has changed the way Pitt riders are counted, with fare boxes that scan Pitt ID cards replacing the system of drivers manually tracking the number of Pitt riders. The new system is designed to eliminate human error and catch invalid IDs, thus yielding a more accurate count of Pitt rides, Port Authority officials stated previously. Pitt riders began using the new technology in a pilot program launched last August.

Ridership numbers recorded under the old system show that Pitt riders accounted for about 6 million rides annually, according to Port Authority figures. Port Authority spokesperson Jim Ritchie said comparison ridership numbers under the smart card system were not available by press time.

“We have worked cooperatively with the University over the past year to roll out and implement our smart card technology to ID holders,” Ritchie said this week. “Of course, there have been a few hiccups to address, but we generally have been satisfied with how the technology has worked. We appreciate the leadership of the University community in helping to advance this technology.”

Ritchie continued, “As part of these efforts, we’ve also discussed a new ‘U-pass’ agreement. While the terms have not yet been finalized, we’re confident that we will be able to come to an agreement in the near future. Otherwise, we’re not commenting on details of the negotiations.”

In April, the Port Authority board, facing a $64 million operating budget shortfall, approved plans to reduce service system-wide by 35 percent, the largest service cuts in the company’s nearly 50-year history. The cuts are scheduled to go into effect Sept. 2.

Under the service reduction plan, 46 of the 102 current routes will be eliminated, with service scaled back on the remaining routes. Service after 10 p.m. will be eliminated on all but 13 routes.

“The planned service cuts for September will affect every aspect of our operation and affect every route in our system. We project losing about 40,000 daily riders,” Ritchie said.

He declined to comment on whether the scheduled service reductions are a factor in the contract negotiations with the University.

John Fedele, associate director of News, said, “We’re still negotiating with the Port Authority and we are not commenting on those negotiations.” Fedele declined to address whether Pitt had any contingency plans if the service cuts are implemented in September.

The University’s payment to the Port Authority is subsidized in part by the $90 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.

—Peter Hart

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