The following remarks were delivered by Port Authority CEO Steve Bland at today's Board of Directors meeting:
Good morning. I'd like to speak for a moment about some of the misinformation being spread publicly about the upcoming service reductions.
Information contained recently in flyers and in newspaper ads is not only inaccurate – it's disingenuous, and even dangerous.
This only spreads misinformation and a false hope that somebody here at Port Authority, or on Grant Street, can fix this problem. We all know that's simply not true.
This problem lies in Harrisburg, not in Pittsburgh. The solutions lie with our community as a whole, not with some “magic vote” this Board might conduct.
There is a fundamental problem with how Pennsylvania pays for transportation; and a question of how it will plug the gap left by the failed plan to charge tolls on I-80.
No amount of public pressure on myself, this Board or on County Executive Onorato can change that.
I'll reiterate today what we've been saying for a long time: we agree with you. We know you’re angry, we know you’re hurt, and we know you’re tired of it. We are too.
We don't want to cut service.
The $45 million provided by former Gov. Rendell was a one-time gift and the most responsible thing we can do with that gift is make it last as long as possible and benefit as many people as possible. As much as we appreciate his gift, it does not solve the crisis – it only postpones it to allow for willing parties to arrive at reasonable solutions. If we waste this precious time fighting amongst ourselves, time and money will run out.
Could we use these funds to prolong current service until July? Absolutely. However, if we do so, we enter our next fiscal year with a $55 million deficit, and no realistic way to fill that gap. Unless a new “gift” falls from the sky, you as a Board would be faced with the prospect of cutting services to a level that would damage the entire region, likely even worse than the 35% service cut you approved last November.
Such a decision would not reverse the cuts – you could only postpone, and expand them.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I see what’s going on around the country, and even around the world. Here in Pennsylvania, our new Governor and our Legislators are facing a $4.5 billion deficit in next year’s budget. In states around the nation, services are being slashed. Our state officials are facing the same types of “Sophie’s choices” that we have here at Port Authority. Frankly, to think we’re somehow special and will be spared any pain in this worldwide movement is simply delusional. And, for anyone who believes that help will come from Washington, the prospects there appear even bleaker than Harrisburg at the moment.
It would be a gamble, at best, to spend all of this money now, and then adopt an unbalanced budget in June without a hint of hope that something might get resolved in Harrisburg by January. If that gamble didn’t pay off, we’d be facing service cuts even greater than the 35% originally envisioned before Governor Rendell provided these funds.
It would be akin to driving toward a cliff and hoping somebody builds a bridge before we got there. Unfortunately, given the deteriorating state of our infrastructure, this analogy may not be far from the truth.
For this Board to reinstate services scheduled for elimination in March would be very popular. It would also be very irresponsible.
We all share these frustrations – and the desire to keep as many routes on the road as possible. We will not gamble with this public asset. We will not risk something so valuable to so many.
We will, however, continue to work with anyone and any group – including Local 85 – who wishes to fight for public transportation and who might have viable solutions to end this statewide problem.
That includes riders. That includes local and state leaders. And that includes the members of Local 85. I, for one, hope they redirect their energies into more productive channels.
For those individuals – 4% of our total ridership – whose routes are being completely eliminated, we all feel for you. We listened intently to 13 hours of testimony last August and heard individual stories of how critical our services are to you. We are committed to working with each and every one of you to find alternatives, and for most of you, some alternative does exist. I’d suggest that we all focus our energies into helping people who need help, not in misleading the vulnerable into a false sense that this simply won’t happen.
For the 200 or so employees who are being laid off, we feel for you too, and hope our circumstances allow for your speedy recall. We value your contributions and wish there were some other option.