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May 3, 2007

Pitt, Port Authority discuss ride pact

The Port Authority of Allegheny County and Pitt officials are working on a contract renewal for fare-free bus rides.

Last month Port Authority officials requested meetings to set a fee schedule for the agreement that allows Pittsburgh campus employees and students to ride buses and light-rail vehicles county-wide for free.

The current three-year contract expires July 31. Pitt is paying $3.38 million for the current year, which began last Aug. 1.

According to Port Authority spokesperson Bob Grove, the two sides have been in contact a couple of times to discuss the length of an extension and the amount of annual payments. “I can’t discuss numbers. But the contacts have gone very well so far,” Grove said. “We haven’t settled everything, but I think both parties agree this is a win-win agreement and both sides would like to see it continue.”

Grove said the Port Authority wants to bring Pitt’s per-ride payment closer to the average amount of payment from all sources of fare income, including cash, discounted passes and other pre-paid fares.

“That continues to be our goal. We had a rolling increase agreement in place for the last few years,” Grove said. “Pitt’s ridership in fiscal year 2006, the latest figures I have, was 5.82 million. Averaging out Pitt’s ridership, which is about 485,000 rides per month, Pitt riders pay 55 cents per ride, compared to the $1.18 average for all riders. When we started this in 1997, Pitt was paying about 31 cents per ride.”

Grove said the Port Authority’s current fiscal plight is factoring into the negotiations. “This may well be the most difficult financial situation we’ve ever been in, and we can’t ignore that,” he said.

Facing a projected fiscal year 2008 deficit of $80 million, the Port Authority will be reducing bus and rail service by 15 percent beginning June 17. Port Authority also will reduce its workforce by 374, including layoffs of 267 current employees, effective at the end of June.

Grove said the intent of the transit company, to be confirmed in the fall, is to raise fares next Jan. 1. “Fares will go up,” he said. “The only things to be determined are how much they will go up, and whether we will be keeping our zone fare structure or go to a flat fare structure.”

Grove added that most bus service to and from Oakland will be retained, although some buses will make fewer trips and undergo route adjustments. “Oakland is probably the least affected area in terms of service cuts,” Grove said. Final schedules are expected to be published by June 1, he said.

(More information on the upcoming Port Authority service changes and cuts can be accessed online at

Pitt spokesperson John Fedele confirmed that the University has been in contact with Port Authority officials, but declined to discuss details.

“The University does not discuss details of a contract in public,” Fedele said. “But we are interested in a contract extension to keep the agreement going.”

Pitt’s payment to the Port Authority is subsidized in part by the $90 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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