Photo by rfshunt

Citizens of the City of Pittsburgh who make a habit of traveling from place to place are about to discover some of the benefits of small government conservatism recently installed in the state capitol. Barring an increase in funding from Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature or Governor, getting around in Pittsburgh will become harder this September.

A lot harder.

On Friday, the board of the Transit Authority of the city (known locally as PAT or Port Authority Transit) voted reluctantly for the deepest round of service cuts and fare increases in its 48 year history.  The massive level of service cuts are unprecedented and every neighborhood will feel the effects: 48 of the 102 remaining bus route will be cut; all but 13 bus and light-rail routes will stop running after 10 p.m.; 18 Park ’N Ride lots will be closed; an estimated five to six hundred transit workers will see layoffs; and fares will rise to at least $2.50 for basic, Zone 1 service.

The cuts represent 35 percent of city transit services and will likely bring a loss of 40,000 out of 225,000 daily riders.  Also planned are higher fares and reductions to the Pittsburgh paratransit “Access” service which provides special needs transportation to seniors and disabled Pittsburghers, many of whom rely on public transit as their only means of getting around.

Changes this drastic will profoundly alter travel in the city of Pittsburgh. Chris Sandvig, Regional Director of the Pittsburgh Community Redevelopment Group, spoke at the Transit Authority meeting and observed that the cuts will affect everyone whether they ride the bus or not.  With so many riders unable to access bus service, traffic congestion and gasoline consumption will rise and family budgets will feel the strain as many workers and students will be forced to buy cars.

The effect on Pittsburgh’s elderly and disabled will be particularly hard, as was pointed out by Judy Spruill, Director of Public Policy for United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh, who feared a future where the disabled might become virtual prisoners in their own homes.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has, to date, made no offer to help with with Pittsburgh’s transit budget, calling instead for concessions from the Amalgamated Transit Union. Patrick J. McMahon, President of ATU Local 85, who spoke at the Port Authority hearing, cited previous concessions made by the union and stated that workers “are not ATMs who can be wrung for more cash every time politicians somewhere fail to live up to their responsibilities.”

Beyond calling for workers to accept further concessions, Governor Corbett has ignored Pittsburgh’s transit crisis, calling it a “local issue“ The Governor had previously appointed a Transportation Funding Advisory Commission in August to come up with a plan to solve Pennsylvania’s transit troubles, but has since ignored their findings. Those findings include recommendations for new state revenue sources to allow continued funding for transit systems.

These are only the most recent in a long series of service cuts and fare increases this city has seen in recent years.  PAT cut service by fifteen percent in 2007 as well as increasing fares and also instituted cutbacks and fare increases in 2003. The Port Authority faces a $64 million budget shortfall, which they blame on fuel and legacy costs (including healthcare and pensions) and a slashing of the state funding to the Authority by $34.2 million last fiscal year.

In the video, you can see the reluctance and despondent sadness of the Port Authority Board as they vote in cuts they know will hurt economic development and make life for average Pittsburgh residents all the more difficult.   What was said again and again at the meeting was that neither the workers, nor the Authority, nor the riders were to blame for any of this.  Instead, to a greater or lesser degree depending on how politically free various parties are to speak their mind, the culprit was uniquely identified as a state government that seeks to ignore urban areas, both in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. And has no problem gutting a basic service as historically mainstream and longstanding as public transit.

This city has a well-deserved reputation as a home to industrious and friendly people.  It has a heritage of honoring not only honest work but the folks who do that work, without fanfare, day in and day out.  The depth and damage of these transit cuts has come as a slow realization to the residents here.

And no wonder, people have a hard time believing that representatives in Harrisburg would simply turn their backs on their neighbors who are just trying to get to their jobs in the morning.  Should the cuts actually take place, there will be many stranded and angry Pittsburghers.

Welcome, my fellow Yinzers, to Wingnut America.  I doubt you’ll enjoy your stay.