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May 30, 2002

Port Authority will ask Pitt for fee hike

Port Authority of Allegheny County will ask Pitt to increase its annual fee in exchange for continued ride-for-free service for Pittsburgh campus employees and students.

The amount of the increase is pending while a new transit service-wide fare scale and service cuts are being approved, according to Bob Grove, assistant director of media relations for the Port Authority. Pitt's increase is expected to be either 20 or 25 percent, depending on which of two proposed options is approved, Grove said. Fare increases are likely to go into effect Sept. 1.

This year Pitt is paying $2.28 million in exchange for unlimited county-wide free rides on Port Authority buses and light-rail vehicles for Pittsburgh campus valid I.D.-holders.

During last year's contract negotiations, Pitt had agreed to pay $2.52 million per year (a 20 percent increase) beginning this Aug. 1 through July 31, 2006.

The Port Authority request would be on top of the $2.52 million, Grove said, either an increase of 20 or 25 percent of that amount starting Sept. 1. Under terms of the contract, the Port Authority can request a fee increase any time it raises fees across the board on discounted fare programs such as Pitt's, he said.

Pitt spokesperson Ron Cichowicz said, "It's premature to speculate on what actions the University would take in response [to a fare increase request]. We have a contract with Port Authority and we have yet to hear from them."

Pitt's fee is subsidized in part by the $55 per term 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. To raise the student fee would require action by Pitt's Board of Trustees.

Before it can increase any fares, the Port Authority must hold public hearings and its Board of Directors must approve the hikes. Last week, the transit company announced that public hearings would be held June 12 on two fare increase option plans and selected service cuts.

State law requires the Port Authority to operate under a balanced budget. Grove said that reduced state funding, passenger revenue shortfalls and operation cost increases have contributed to a projected $10 million deficit in its $274.6 million budget by the end of the Port Authority's fiscal year on June 30.

"Among the most significant items affecting the budget are a $5.9 million reduction in state Public Transportation Assistance Funds, a $2 million reduction in state reimbursable senior citizen revenue and a $3.3 million shortfall in passenger fare revenue as a result of the weakened economy and events of Sept. 11, 2001," Grove stated in a press release announcing the public hearing schedule.

Also under consideration are proposals for a reduction of about 4.5 percent of current service hours, including reductions in service frequency on some routes, consolidation of certain routes and the elimination of 13 lightly-utilized routes. (Specific information on proposed service cuts is available on the Port Authority web site: The Port Authority already has instituted several internal administrative measures to offset expected funding shortfalls and cost increases, Grove pointed out, including the elimination of 24 administrative positions; continuation of a hiring freeze implemented last September on all non-operating positions, and a reduction of marketing, advertising, training and travel expenses.

"Unfortunately, these cost-saving actions are not sufficient to eliminate the budget deficit," said Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Paul P. Skoutelas. "Therefore, without increased state funding Port Authority has no option but to consider raising fares and reducing service. We have done, and are continuing to do, everything we can to minimize the effects of these actions on our customers."

The Port Authority board is expected to meet June 28 for final action on the rate increases and service cuts. Grove said Pitt can expect a written fare increase request almost immediately after the June 28 Port Authority board meeting. "Our point of view throughout all the negotiations of this deal over the years is to say [to Pitt], 'Look, just like us, you guys have to plan your budget. And we'll let you know as soon as anything is official about rate increases," Grove said.

The Port Authority last raised its fares on April 1, 2001, its first fare increase in a decade. Base 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 and the Pitt-Port Authority agreement, increased by 20 percent.

Port Authority figures indicate that about 80 percent of its total ridership uses some form of pre-paid discounted program. The transit company's total ridership was 76.3 million in fiscal year 2001.

Ridership for Pitt customers has averaged about 450,000 riders per month during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2001.

The Port Authority public hearings are set for June 12 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. in rooms 302-304 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. Individuals wishing to testify are encouraged to pre-register by calling 412/566-5103 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The Port Authority also will accept public comments on the transit company's web site ( or submitted in writing to: Port Authority Fare/Service Proposal, Heinz 57 Center, 345 Sixth Ave., Pittsburgh 15222. The deadline to submit comments is 4:30 p.m. June 18.

–Peter Hart

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