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July 12, 2007

Pitt-Port Authority contract deadline looms

Port Authority of Allegheny County got some tentative good news this week from the preliminary fiscal year 2008 transit funding agreement reached in Harrisburg. (See related story beginning on page 1.)

But a proposed increase in commonwealth public transit funding will have no impact on negotiations with Pitt on a contract renewal for fare-free bus rides, said Port Authority spokesperson Bob Grove.

Assuming the state legislature approves the funding measure, the financially strapped county transit company could see its funding upped by $55 million over the $129 million in the current budget, Grove said. That would allow the Port Authority, which has projected an operating budget deficit of $44.6 million for FY08, to avoid a 10 percent service reduction and 177 employee layoffs set for Sept. 2, he said.

Regardless of the state transit funding, however, unless Pitt and the Port Authority come to an agreement by July 31, Pitt riders would have to start paying to ride mass transit beginning Aug. 1.

Under a program launched in 1997, the University agreed to pay an annual sum in exchange for fare-free rides throughout Allegheny County. According to Port Authority figures, in the final year of the current three-year contract 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 per ride average from all sources of fare income, including cash, discounted passes and other pre-paid fares, Grove said. “We want to bring Pitt more in line with our general ridership,” he said. “We know what the University pays and we know what our general riders pay, and the discrepancy is too great right now.”

Grove said the transit company has offered the University a choice of plans: 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 counter-offered a one-year deal to increase its payment to average 65 cents a ride, Grove said.

Negotiations are ongoing. “The two sides met last week and the feeling is the meeting was a little more productive than past meetings,” Grove said, although he declined to be specific.

Pitt spokesperson John Fedele declined to comment on the negotiations. “The University does not discuss contract negotiations in public. I will say we are interested in continuing the program.”

Grove said there has been no discussion of a monthly contract extension or a “grace period” after the current contract expires.

“Our drivers will be instructed to demand full fare beginning Aug. 1,” Grove said. The base fare is $1.75 per ride and exact change is required. Information on bus passes and other discount options is available online at

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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