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March 3, 2005

Last-Minute Bailout Could Save Port Authority Again

In an 11th hour bailout announced by Gov. Ed Rendell, the Port Authority of Allegheny County will not raise fares or cut services. Rendell announced Feb. 28, on the eve of a planned $25-cent base fare increase, that he would direct, or “flex,” $25.3 million in federal and state highway allocations and state gasoline tax revenue to the Port Authority to prevent the fare increase, as well as stop service cuts that had been planned for March 6.

The flex funding is part of a two-year, $412 million statewide mass transit company bailout, a package that includes directing an additional $530 million statewide to road and bridge repair.

Under Rendell’s plan, the Port Authority is expected to receive an additional $45 million in fiscal year 2006, which begins July 1, and $64 million in FY 2007, according to stetements posted on the governor’s web site: (

Regionally, the governor’s proposal must be approved by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), a planning agency that oversees distribution of public transit and highway funding for the nine-county area in western Pennsylvania. The SPC will convene in special session March 10, the earliest it is permitted to meet under law.

In a written statement issued following the governor’s announcement, SPC chair Dave Coder said he would urge the commission to approve the proposal.

Paul P. Skoutelas, Port Authority’s chief executive officer, said following an emergence board meeting Feb. 28, “In anticipation of the approval of the funding by SPC, Port Authority is making good on its promise to its customers to not impose the planned fare increases and service reductions at this time. [The governor’s action] does not, however, diminish the urgent need to establish a permanent, dedicated funding source for public transportation in Pennsylvania.”

Port Authority officials have warned for months that the transit company would be forced to initiate incremental fare increases and service cuts due to a $30 million budget shortfall this fiscal year and a projected $45 million shortfall next fiscal year. The transit company is required by state law to balance its operating budget.

Port Authority officials asked customers to disregard timetables and other published service cuts, which included eliminating or cutting back some 160 bus routes, or about 12 percent of the transit company’s overall service. Customers who purchased bus passes or other fare packages in anticipation of the fare increase will be due refunds, Port Authority officials said.

(For more information, access the Port Authority’s web site:

Pitt spokesperson John Fedele told the University Times this week, “It appears from the governor’s statement, and the statement of the Port Authority [Feb. 28], that the fares will not be increased and the service cuts will not be made. So the University does not need to make any contingency plans at this time.” He declined to say what contingency plans had been considered.

In a program that began in 1997, Pitt has contracted with the Port Authority to pay an annual fee in exchange for Pittsburgh campus I.D. holders’ free bus rides throughout Allegheny County. Pitt has averaged about 450,000 rides a month over the past couple years, according to Port Authority statistics.

Pitt signed a three-year contract extension last June, agreeing to pay $3.066 million for the year Aug. 1, 2004-July 31, 2005; $3.219 million for Aug. 1, 2005-July 31, 2006, and $3.38 million for Aug. 1, 2006-July 31, 2007.

The contract allows either side to call for renegotiating the fees provided they request that in writing at least 90 days before a contract year ends, according to Port Authority spokesperson Bob Grove.

-Peter Hart

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