Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 27, 1999

Pitt, Port Authority optimistic that free-ride plan will continue

Pitt, Port Authority optimistic that free-ride plan will continue

Both Port Authority Transit and University officials are optimistic that Pitt I.D. holders will continue to ride buses and light-rail vehicles free of charge throughout Allegheny County, despite published reports to the contrary.

But Pitt's annual fee may rise from the current $1.5 million to as high as $2.5 million.

Last summer Pitt and the Port Authority entered into a five-year contract, which included a trial year to measure the effect on ridership.

Local newspapers reported last week that the agreement was in jeopardy at the end of the trial year, July 31, something both sides denied to the University Times.

According to the Port Authority, the number of Pitt riders has more than doubled over the previous year's U-Zone system, which allowed Pitt I.D. holders free access to buses within Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Drivers on Port Authority vehicles p ress a button to record each passenger flashing a University I.D. card.

"This is why we agreed to a test year: to see how many riders we would have," said Don Bell, Port Authority operations director and one of the authority's negotiators. "There was just no way to predict the increase would be so high."

Because ridership was higher than expected, the Port Authority informed Pitt that it wanted to renegotiate the agreement.

Bell said a legal technicality in the contract negotiated last summer required both Pitt and the Port Authority to notify the other party at least 120 days before expiration of the trial year if either insisted on renegotiating the subsidy fee.

"We very much like having this agreement with Pitt and want to renew it, absolutely," Bell said. "And I would describe our negotiations as cordial, ongoing and professional. But we want to be fair to all our riders, [who number] about 7 million monthly. O ur numbers indicate that [Pitt] ridership from last year [August 1997 to July 1998] under the U-Zone agreement went from an average of 180,000 to 420,000 [per month], taking in all Allegheny County."

Given those numbers and the University's payment, Bell said, Pitt riders average about 31 cents per ride versus 92 cents for other customers.

Bob Harkins, director of Pitt's Parking, Transportation and Services, said he expects the contract to be renewed. "Right now we're crunching the numbers, but we think we'll get it done," he said. "We're looking for an extension of four years, to give us a chance to plan our budgets."

Under terms of the current deal, the University agreed to pay Port Authority $1.5 million for the year ending this July 31. Fees were negotiated for the remaining four years, increasing incrementally to $1.9 million for the year ending July 31, 2003, for a total of about $8.3 million over the five years.

Students' $55 per term safety and transportation fee helps defray the cost of the service. The University's administration subsidizes employee ridership.

Harkins conceded Pitt's contribution would increase, but said there would be no increase in the student fee, regardless of the amount of the University's increase. Pitt also is seeking "roll over language" to expedite contract renewals, he said.

Bell said a roll-over clause would be acceptable, but that the transit authority would still insist on a annual cancellation clause as protection against unforeseen outside expenses or large dips in state or county appropriations.

Bell said, "I don't want to get too specific with numbers while we negotiate, but Pitt's fee would be in the $2 million range and would not exceed $2.5 million at the outside. We also expect that ridership will 'top out' in the near future, unless Pitt, f or example, increased its number of students [substantially], which is not likely."

Bell pointed out that comparable deals have been struck with Carnegie Mellon, Chatham College and Carlow College since the agreement was made with Pitt, though these agreements are tailored to each school's population and needs.

Bell also said the contract with Pitt calls for reinstallation of the U-Zone if the parties fail to agree on a continuation of the county-wide system.

–Peter Hart

Leave a Reply