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April 29, 2004

Pitt/Port Authority Plan Renewal Under Discussion

Pitt and the Port Authority of Allegheny County are “still communicating” on renewing the agreement for ride-for-free service on public transportation for Pittsburgh campus employees and students with valid I.D. cards.
Pitt’s current deal with the Port Authority is set to expire July 31 but officials for both sides are hopeful an agreement will be reached before then. Last July, the two parties settled on a one-year extension to a contract that has been in effect since 1997. That extension included a $400,000 hike in Pitt’s annual fee, up to $2.92 million for the current year. Port Authority data indicate that Pitt customers account for about 450,000 rides per month.
Port Authority spokesperson Bob Grove said the transit company sent a letter in March to the University proposing the contract renewal. Grove declined to give details of the proposal, including whether it contains a rate hike request.
“I will say that we believe in the program. We believe that it’s good for both parties,” Grove said. “We will do whatever we can within reason to keep the program going. We’re still communicating with Pitt and that’s a good sign.”
He said the transit company in the current fiscal year was able to balance its budget, which it is required to do by state law, but faces a $30 million deficit for FY 2005, which begins July 1.
“Last year we faced a $20 million hole that was filled by a one-time transfer of $10 million in federal funds from PennDOT, a restoration of our 6 percent cut in state funding in December, and $5 million [in internal cuts], which included job eliminations,” he said. “But like any company, we face higher health care and pension costs. We also are looking at higher fuel costs.” The Port Authority currently buys diesel fuel at 87 cents a gallon.
“Every penny that goes up costs us $100,000,” Grove said.
All the dire options to countermand the predicted deficit remain on the table, Grove said, including: elimination of Sunday and holiday service; elimination of weekday service after 9 p.m.; reduction of Saturday services to Sunday levels; reduction of weekday peak-hours service, and increase of base fares from $1.75 to $2, as well as proportionate increases in pre-paid passes, including Pitt’s annual fee.
The Port Authority raised base fares in 2001 and 2002 following 10 years of stable rates. “But we’re more optimistic this year that the state will come through with funding,” he said. “The issue of our declining funds has been on the radar much more than in previous years,” due to public hearings, actions by Save the Transit System and other advocacy groups, resolutions passed by Allegheny County Council and Pittsburgh City Council urging the state legislature to increase Port Authority funding and favorable reception to lobbying efforts from the Rendell administration.
“The issues are not unique to the Port Authority,” Grove said. “SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) in Philadelphia is projecting a $70 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year.”
(More information on local, regional and national public transit issues is available on the Port Authority’s web site:
Pitt spokesperson John Fedele acknowledged that negotiations between Pitt and the Port Authority are ongoing, and that the University would like to extend the agreement. He declined further comment.
Pitt’s payment 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.
-Peter Hart


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