Saturday, April 16, 2005

Authority hopes garage will attract riders - PittsburghLIVE.com

Authority hopes garage will attract riders - PittsburghLIVE.com: "The Port Authority of Allegheny County hopes to attract new light-rail riders once its new 2,200-space parking garage near South Hills Village Mall opens May 16, which could give the cash-strapped transit agency a welcome financial boost.

So PAT (transit) is building parking, not the parking authority.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Port Authority hopes garage will attract riders
 
By Jim Ritchie
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Port Authority of Allegheny County hopes to attract new light-rail riders once its new 2,200-space parking garage near South Hills Village Mall opens May 16, which could give the cash-strapped transit agency a welcome financial boost.

New projections released Friday for fiscal 2006, which begins in July, show sharp increases in the Port Authority's expenses. Even with the new garage, passenger revenue is projected to remain steady at about $87 million, officials said during a board of directors committee meeting.

Among the most worrisome projections are:

* Health care costs that are expected to rise by $14.5 million.


* Pension contributions that could climb by $8.1 million.
* And diesel fuel that could cost an extra $2.3 million.

The combined increase of nearly $25 million over current costs would eat up more than a fourth of all money collected from passengers at bus and subway fare boxes.

"These are the three uncontrollables for us that we need to get control of," said Paul Skoutelas, authority executive director.

Drafting a balanced budget over the next two months will be complicated because future levels of state funding remain in question and four union contracts expire in June and July.

The authority doesn't want to cut service or raise fares, a drastic move avoided in March only after Gov. Ed Rendell shifted highway money to help transit agencies.

The authority's new garage cannot solve all its problems. The authority will charge customers $2 a day or $22 for a monthly parking pass. Rates will be half-price through Sept. 1.

That means Port Authority might look for employee concessions to help balance its books.

Negotiations are under way with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents about 3,000 drivers, maintenance personnel and supervisors. Bargaining will soon begin with the Transit Police Association, which represents 44 employees.

Calls to the unions seeking comment yesterday were not immediately returned.

The authority's health care costs are projected to jump 27.4 percent from $52.9 million this year to $67.4 million in 2006, said Claudia Allen, the authority's chief financial officer.

"Our health care costs have now nearly reached our passenger revenue," Skoutelas said.

The authority's annual pension costs also are projected to increase 110 percent from $7.4 million this year to $15.5 million in 2006, she said.

The authority also is bracing for an increase in diesel fuel costs, from $1.37 a gallon this year to $1.60 a gallon next year. Each penny increase results in $100,000 in added cost over a year of driving, which adds up to $2.3 million.

The projections disturbed John Tague, president of the rider-based Allegheny County Transit Council.

"Something has to be done about it," he said. "We're going to end up going bankrupt."

Riders remain concerned about the possibility of fare increases and service cuts, but some also say they don't understand the authority's troubles.

"I can't figure out how they have the money to build themselves all these tunnels and stuff when they should be spending the money on running buses," said Ben Henderson, a North Side resident who was waiting for a bus yesterday along Penn Avenue Downtown.

Authority projects, including the light-rail extension North Shore Connector, are paid through a capital budget, which does not rely on day-to-day operating accounts. Still, the costs of running new bus and rail lines when they're completed are included in the authority's daily expenses.

The authority faces a projected $45 million deficit in fiscal 2006. Rendell has approved tapping more highway money, but that also must be approved by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a regional planning agency based Downtown.

The authority and transit supporters continue lobbying state lawmakers to approve a dedicated increase in its annual subsidy.

Jim Ritchie can be reached at jritchie@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7933.

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