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April 4, 2002

Pitt’s cost for “free” bus rides may go up

The University may have to pay more to continue its ride-for-free service for Pitt I.D. holders.

This year, Pitt is paying the Port Authority of Allegheny County $2.5 million in exchange for county-wide free rides on Port Authority buses and trolleys for students, faculty and staff.

But the Port Authority, facing a deficit in its current operating budget, probably will push for a fare increase, said Port Authority spokesperson Bob Grove.

"If we do have a fare increase for our customers, we will ask the University for a corresponding increase, the same as we did last year," Grove said.

The Port Authority last raised its fares on April 1, 2001, its first fare hike in a decade. Cash fares went up by 35 cents to $1.60 (a 28 percent increase) while the price of discounted fare programs such as weekly and monthly bus passes — the Port Authority calls them "pre-paid fare instruments" — increased by 20 percent.

The Port Authority requested, and received, a 20 percent increase from Pitt effective last Aug. 1, hiking the University's annual cost by $420,000 to $2.5 million.

Before it can increase its fares, the Port Authority must hold public hearings and its board must approve the hikes. That process probably would take at least until next fall, Grove said.

"Given the shortfall in our state funding, it's probably inevitable that we will be forced to request a fare increase," he said. "But there has been no official determination of how much the increase would be or when it would take effect.

"It's fair to expect, though, that we would ask the University for the same percentage increase that we would be charging our pre-paid fare instrument holders," Grove said.

Robert Hill, Pitt vice chancellor for Public Affairs, said: "Obviously, we're not going to speculate until we see what the Port Authority is asking for."

The Port Authority faces a $10.8 million deficit in its $274.6 million budget for the current fiscal year, caused largely by an $8 million cut in state funding.

A ridership decline, attributed in part to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also is blamed.

Next year's state funding picture looks equally bleak: Gov. Mark Schweiker's proposed 2002-2003 budget recommends no additional commonwealth funding for mass transit agency operations.

State law requires the Port Authority to operate under a balanced budget. The agency plans two rounds of service cuts this year, and already has cut vacant administrative positions and budgets for marketing, travel and training.

Under the terms of Pitt's five-year contract with the Port Authority (the agreement is now in its third year), either side can terminate the contract upon 120 days' notice.

— Bruce Steele

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