Charges on longer rides are possibleTuesday, April 27, 2010 By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As it prepares to change 26 more bus routes in June, Port Authority also is considering charging a premium for service on longer commuter trips.
Authority CEO Steve Bland mentioned the possibility of premium pricing in an interview Monday in which he discussed the financial uncertainty facing the authority and other public transit agencies. He also pronounced the first round of route changes "a rousing success."
"Those longer commuter routes are very expensive," even if the buses are full, he said. "We're looking at it. This budget with the Act 44 stuff is so up in the air that everything's on the table."
He was referring to a $472 million hole in the state's transportation budget that followed the federal government's decision not to allow tolling of Interstate 80, a key component of Act 44, the funding measure approved by the Legislature in 2007.
Without remedial action, all of the state's 36 transit agencies will have their funding slashed July 1.
Mr. Bland did not specify how a premium for commuter buses might be structured or when it would take effect. The most likely time for any fare changes would be in January.
A recent consultant's study placed the cost of express bus service to the suburbs at $5.07 per passenger, compared with $2.81 per passenger on conventional radial routes.
Service on the AVN Allegheny Valley North Flyer, which was discontinued as part of a merger of five routes last month, cost $7.32 per passenger, according to the study. Service on the 28K Moon Express, one of the routes being revised in June, costs $6.39 per rider.
In contrast, service on the heavily traveled 86A East Hills urban route costs $2.16 per passenger.
The current cash fare for outlying areas is $2.75; riders closer to town pay $2.
Mr. Bland was scheduled to be in Harrisburg today to meet with lawmakers about the looming financial crisis, which could leave a $50 million shortfall in the authority's 2010-11 budget and force big fare increases and service cuts.
Gov. Ed Rendell has called a special session of the Legislature starting next Tuesday to tackle the transportation crisis.
"All of the stars are misaligned" for a solution, Mr. Bland said, noting that time is running short and it's an election year for the Legislature.
"I think it's going to be a real challenge. They understand the gravity of the problem, that people will genuinely be hurt if it's not addressed at the state level," he said.
The 26 routes to be changed on June 13 are 6B Spring Hill, 11E Fineview, 13G Thompson Run Express, 13U North Hills-Oakland Express, 16F City View, 28K Moon Express, 41B Bower Hill, 44U Mt. Lebanon-Oakland, 46F Baldwin Highlands, 46G Elizabeth, 51A Arlington Heights and 51C Carrick.
Also 53F Homestead-Lincoln Place, 55M Century III Mall, 56B Hazelwood, 56C McKeesport-Lincoln Place, 67A Monroeville, 67F Trafford, 67H Squirrel Hill, 68D Braddock Hills Express, 79D Mount Carmel, 86A East Hills, 86B Frankstown, E Elizabeth Flyer, HP Holiday Park Flyer and LP Lincoln Park Flyer.
The routes will be renamed, timetables will change and in some cases routes will be shortened or trimmed of their multiple variations.
The 46G, for example, is being renamed Y46 Elizabeth Flyer and all but two of its 36 route variations are being eliminated.
Brief summaries of the June changes will be posted on the authority's website, www.portauthority.org, starting today.
New schedules and route maps will be posted on the site May 5, and paper schedules will be out in mid-May, authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
Mr. Bland said the first round of changes, on nearly 60 routes with 79,000 riders, went "remarkably smoothly," with complaints coming from only 10 routes that serve 4,800 riders.
"Obviously there's a few routes that we need to work on," he said, mentioning the West Busway and Allegheny Valley routes that have generated the most complaints.
Among the noteworthy improvements, he said, were the addition of direct service from Downtown to Pittsburgh International Airport on the 28X Airport Flyer (which no longer stops at Robinson Town Centre) and new routes 64 Lawrenceville Waterfront and 75 Ellsworth.
He said about three-quarters of riders will see improvements during the two-year service overhaul. For the rest "it'll either be about the same or not quite as good."
The purpose of the revisions, he said, is to focus the agency's limited resources on places where ridership is highest.
"We never said from the beginning that everyone's going to love it."
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit "The Roundabout," the Post-Gazette's transportation blog, at post-gazette.com.
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