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June 28, 2007

Pitt, Port Authority far apart on transit deal

Members of the Pittsburgh campus community may be forced to shell out money to ride mass transit beginning Aug. 1.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County and Pitt officials are working on a contract renewal for fare-free bus rides — a program that has been in place since 1997 — but the two sides are reported to be far apart.

The current three-year contract expires July 31. This year, Pitt is paying $3.37 million for some 5.88 million rides, which translates into about 58 cents per ride. That compares to the $1.24 average amount of payment from all sources of fare income, including cash, discounted passes and other pre-paid fares, Port Authority officials said.

According to spokesperson Bob Grove, the transit company has offered Pitt a choice: to raise Pitt’s annual fees over two years to an average of $1 a ride, or to raise fees incrementally over five years to $1.25-$1.30 per ride.

Pitt has offered a one-year deal to bring its average to 65 cents a ride, Grove said.

Pitt spokesperson John Fedele would not confirm Pitt’s offer, saying, “The University does not discuss details of a contract nor hypotheticals about what might happen. I can only say the negotiations are ongoing.”

Carnegie Mellon University, which has a similar agreement in place with the Port Authority, also is in contract renewal negotiations, but it is closer to agreeing on fee amounts, Grove said. He declined to be specific.

“We offered CMU the same options as Pitt. I’m more optimistic about reaching an agreement with CMU,” he said. “When we met with their people, they sort of shrugged and said, ‘Well, we know the problems [the Port Authority] is having, and we kind of expected this.’”

Currently, CMU pays $765,600 annually for about 1.48 million rides, Grove said.

He noted that even if the July 31 deadline passes without a new Pitt-Port Authority agreement, that might not end contract negotiations. “Technically, beginning Aug. 1, Pitt people would have to start paying. But that’s not to say we couldn’t still reach an agreement after that. We’re interested in getting an agreement done that’s agreeable to both sides any time during the year. It’s possible there could be an extension of some type,” although that has not been proposed at this time, Grove said.

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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