PA: Hundreds Protest Port Authority Transit Cuts

Many of the 350 people who testified Wednesday against what would be the largest service reduction in Port Authority history criticized Gov. Tom Corbett for not wanting to boost funding to the beleaguered agency or attend the public hearing.

"He looks like a coward, honestly," Emilie Monroe, 17, of McKees Rocks said during a 12-hour hearing at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

But don't expect Corbett to roll over because of the criticism — or to boost Port Authority funding.

"The taxpayers of Pennsylvania cannot continue to spend millions of dollars correcting the mistakes of an authority over which they have little control," Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said. The state provides the Port Authority with about 40 percent of its money for operations.

Harley said the governor's office is awaiting results of contract talks between the authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents about 2,300 drivers, mechanics and other workers. Retirement health care and pension benefits guaranteed under a contract expiring June 30 eat about a quarter of the Port Authority's $370 million annual budget.

"We have work to do, and I think (the union and management) realize Harrisburg is looking at the agency to see what they are going to do," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who helped start contract talks in January and said he's "optimistic" about reaching a deal.

The authority board in June will vote on its plan to close a projected $64 million deficit. It would eliminate 46 bus routes and scale back 56 remaining bus, T and incline routes. The agency would lay off about 500 of its 2,500 workers, close up to half of its bus divisions and raise fares on routes operating outside downtown.

About 100 city neighborhoods and suburban communities would lose service.

Some people warned the service cuts would hamper their ability to get to work, school or doctor's appointments, and could force them out of homes not served by transit.

Nina Pettiford, who uses a walker and cares for her 86-year-old mother, said the cuts won't just make it harder for her to get around.

"You are forcing me to break the law," said Pettiford, 65, of Garfield Commons, who uses unlicensed jitney services.

Others said cutting service would harm a rebounding economy, drive away employers or worsen traffic. Advocates for people with disabilities said they would face greater risk.

Christine Ryder of Wilmerding, who uses a wheelchair and speaks through an electronic voice synthesizer, said fixed-route transit cuts will eliminate her ACCESS door-to-door transportation service. Federal law requires providing such service to people living within three-quarters of a mile from bus routes.

"Many of us with disabilities live independently, and without ACCESS service ... we will be captives in our own homes," Ryder said.

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