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December 6, 2012

Pitt, Port Authority sign pact

bus 2A new agreement between the University and the Port Authority of Allegheny County will allow some 40,000 faculty, staff and students to use their Pittsburgh campus University ID cards as transit passes in Allegheny County through June 30, 2017.

The five-year agreement, approved Nov. 30 by the Port Authority board, is retroactive to the July 1 expiration of the previous five-year contract, which had been extended while negotiations continued.

Under the new deal, the University will pay $1.25 per ride — half of the transit authority’s one-zone fare. The per-ride cost would rise automatically with any fare increase, remaining at 50 percent of the one-zone base fare.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said the average fare per rider for all Port Authority riders was $1.73 for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The average Pitt fare, in comparison, was $1.10.

He said Pitt ridership in fiscal year 2011-12 was approximately 5.3 million-5.4 million, for which Pitt paid the Port Authority about $5.9 million.

The Port Authority is projecting 5.3 million Pitt rides in the current fiscal year, Ritchie added.

The University has had ridership contracts with the Port Authority since 1997. The cost is covered through Parking, Transportation and Services funds and students’ $180 per year security, safety and transportation fees.

Under prior agreements, the University paid the Port Authority an agreed-upon annual lump sum. The new contract is based on actual usage, tallied using smart-card technology embedded in Pitt ID cards. The smart-card system, put into use in April, replaces manual tallies.

Under the new “per click” payment arrangement, the University is paying more for riders who transfer, said Pitt Associate Vice Chancellor for Business Eli Shorak, who led Pitt’s side of the contract negotiations. That factor was taken into account, he said, adding that the difference is made up for elsewhere — for instance, in that University riders aren’t charged a rush-hour premium on the T.

The agreement does not include any guarantee to maintain a certain level of transit service, Shorak said. “We can’t dictate to the Port Authority what level of service they maintain but we hope the level of service continues.” Given that Pitt is paying on a per-click basis, “If service decreases, our payment decreases,” he said.

In addition to Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and Chatham participate in Port Authority’s U-Pass program, which provides bulk-rate transit service to university students and personnel. Riders from the three institutions total about 600,000 trips per month, or about 11 percent of the Port Authority’s total ridership.

Commenting on the new Pitt contract, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland stated, “Our collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh as the first large-scale smart-card partner has been incredibly valuable and we are extremely pleased to continue this partnership.”

Jerome Cochran, Pitt executive vice chancellor and general counsel, stated: “We’re delighted to continue our partnership with the Port Authority on the pre-paid rider program that provides so many benefits to Pitt, to the Port Authority and to the community. Not only does this program provide direct support for public transportation in the county, but it also eases parking and traffic congestion in Oakland and benefits the environment.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 8

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