Port Authority is holding an all day (8 am - 8 pm) public hearing today at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center regarding a proposal to cut service and eliminate fares. This proposal is needed due to the statewide transportation funding crisis, which largely was caused by the Federal decision to not allow tolling on Interstate 80. This has caused shortfalls in transportation budgets ranging from Port Authority to PennDOT.
Below are the opening remarks of CEO Steve Bland.
My name is Steve Bland and I am the CEO of Port Authority.
I’d like to thank our riders, community leaders and elected officials who are taking time today to attend this hearing.
This is a difficult situation, and one that the management and Board of the Port Authority do not look forward to. You might ask how a Federal decision not to charge tolls on Interstate 80 causes bus and T riders in Pittsburgh to lose service. The answer is complicated and frustrating – it’s frustrating to riders, and we’re frustrated too.
Port Authority continues to support the many State lawmakers who have pushed to provide a reliable stream of transportation dollars – a stream that would dedicate money for highway work, maintaining bridges and providing public transportation.
The law adopted in 2007 to achieve these goals, called Act 44, was cut short, however, when the Federal government turned down a key element – the tolling of Interstate 80.
As a result, transportation providers across the state now face shortfalls. This includes transit systems like the Port Authority and SEPTA, in Philadelphia. It also includes Penn DOT for their crucial highway and bridge programs.
In fact, in the plan approved by the State Transportation Commission just last week, PennDOT projects a 24% reduction in available funding over the next four years, compared to the most recent four years. This means more structurally deficient bridges will join the ranks, and more miles of roadways will not be improved.
So, now, with no immediate solution in sight, we have no choice but to plug our shortfall by cutting service and increasing fares, although all aspects of our budget will be reduced.
The hearings we hold today are legally required by the Federal Government for any fare increase or significant service reduction. However, we’re also here today to have our riders and other community members make their voices heard - to document the tremendous and hurtful impact this will have on our region if it must come to pass.
We know riders will suffer. We know employers will suffer. And, we know businesses, schools and all types of community institutions will suffer.
Port Authority is an integral part of this region.
It is our desire, as a public agency, to continue making improvements that will establish reliable public transportation services for many years to come.
We’ve made many of these difficult changes in the last few years, cutting costs by more than $50 million and increasing operating revenue by more than $10 million.
We continue to revamp our routes – for the first time in our history – transforming an outdated system that followed old trolley lines into one that better serves the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County of today, and in a much more efficient manner.
These changes will better serve our changing communities, support economic growth and satisfy a statewide call for Port Authority to become a more efficient transit system.
The route changes we’ve been making every few months will set the stage for future improvements, such as RapidBus service and smart cards.
This is the vision for Port Authority that’s within reach. The cuts proposed for January certainly would significantly damage, perhaps permanently, our ability to continue improving the system.
That’s why we have to make sure leaders statewide understand how critical public transportation is to this region.
So, today, I encourage you to make your voice heard and to tell your story of how these cuts would impact your life.
Thank you for attending. And, thank you for speaking out.