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January 25, 2007

SAC discusses proposed transit cuts

The Staff Association Council (SAC) is looking for ways to oppose looming mass transit cuts.

At its Jan. 17 meeting, SAC members maintained that some Pitt employees, stranded by route cuts and unable or unwilling to rent a parking space in Oakland, would be unduly burdened getting to work.

Suggestions included passing a resolution opposing the cuts, forming a new committee to address transportation issues, inviting a representative from the Oakland Business Improvement District to speak to SAC about potential effects of transit cuts to Oakland commerce and organizing a “Panther Park and Pedal” group to promote bicycle riding.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County this month proposed massive fare and service changes as well as furloughing 400 employees to counteract a projected $80 million deficit in fiscal year 2008.

The proposals include eliminating more than 100 of the 213 weekday bus routes, reducing the number of weekend trips by 25 percent, downsizing the number of buses in the fleet by 150 and increasing basic fares beginning Jan. 1, 2008.

(See related story this issue.)

SAC member Patricia Hermenault said, “I wish we would go on record as saying that we oppose these cuts. The cost of parking on campus is prohibitive. This issue is critical and timely.”

“I’m not sure if the Port Authority is using this as a scare tactic,” said SAC President Rich Colwell. “They say it’s a done deal, but then when they were talking about cutting out the airport bus route (28X Flyer), they were saying it wasn’t a done deal until they have their discussions.”

Colwell argued against forming a new SAC committee, something he said is time-consuming and requires a bylaws change.

“Right now we have the safety and security committee, and one of its members represents staff on the [University-wide] parking and transportation committee,” Colwell said. “So, our voice can be heard through bringing this up there. This type of discussion belongs there.”

Pitt’s parking and transportation committee, formed in the early 1990s, advises the Department of Parking, Transportation and Services on issues and sets policies that pertain to parking and transportation.

Colwell noted that Pitt’s contract with the Port Authority, which allows Pittsburgh campus employees and students to ride buses for free, could be jeopardized by the proposed changes.

Under a three-year contract extension signed in June 2004, Pitt is paying $3.38 million for the fiscal year that ends July 31, when the contract expires.

Port Authority data indicate that Pitt customers account for about 450,000 rides per month.

“I don’t know where the University stands on the cuts because they’re paying all that money for faculty, staff and students to ride buses for free,” Colwell said.

He said that SAC officers would discuss the Port Authority issues and likely put them on a future meeting agenda for open discussion.

In other SAC developments:

• Tammeka Banks was affirmed as chair of the salary and job classification committee, and Carol Hodgkiss was affirmed as chair of the grievance committee.

• SAC will hold a new members orientation on Feb. 7.

• The staff council is exploring organizing a ski trip to Seven Springs on the University’s March 9 holiday.

• The SAC-sponsored annual Pitt Kennywood Day is set for July 29.

—Peter Hart

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