Moon Commuters Facing Uncertainty
Port Authority cuts will be announced next month
Larry Marley would rather not deal with the drive to work.
Daily traffic along the 16-mile trek to his office in Downtown Pittsburgh became too much of a headache for the Moon resident. So he now parks his car in the Moon Park and Ride lot off University Boulevard, relying instead on public transit each day for work.
"I've thought about driving, but that's not an option I'd like to take," said Marley just after stepping off a 6 p.m. bus in the Park and Ride lot. "I'm a little bit concerned about the cuts."
Those cuts could have come in the form of a controversial plan that called for a hike in fares in January, as well as hundreds of layoffs, drastic service reductions on other routes and an overall 35 percent decrease in Port Authority service by March 13.
Nearly 47 routes faced elimination under the Port Authority's wide-ranging initial plan to eliminate a $47 million budget shortfall that followed cuts in state transportation funding.
But at least some of those steps were put on hold Dec. 13 after the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, in a 27-22 vote, approved a plan pitched by outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell to shift $45 million in unused federal money to the Port Authority.
Commission approval was necessary to shift the federal money, which had been allocated to pay for construction projects that were not completed. The commission is the official planning entity for 10 counties in southwestern Pennslvania.
"It's good news, obviously. But it's a Band-Aid," Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said. "We're hearing frustration from people, and we understand that. We still have a long-term issue here."
The stopgap money initially was intended to stave off cuts and tide over the Port Authority for at least six months while it steps up efforts to persuade state legislators to increase its allocation and set aside a permanent funding stream for regional transit.
But Port Authority CEO Steve Bland told commission members that the authority may go through with some of the planned cuts as it determine how best to use the money – and how to make it last longer.
The authority now intends to stretch the money through June 30, 2012, in order to gain more time to lobby state lawmakers, Ritchie said.
"Port Authority still might have to reduce service but not at the 35 percent level that clearly would be overly damaging to the community," he said. "Port Authority staff currently is reviewing a few possible scenarios, and the authority's Board is expected to address this more specifically in January."
The board also is likely to decide then if it will go through with its proposed fare increases.
Like commuters, Moon officials are awaiting final word from the Port Authority on how the cuts will affect the township and its residents, said Moon Planning Director Adam McGurk.
"The issue will be service reduction," McGurk said. "But we'll fare better if the Park and Ride lot on University Boulevard maintains [its current level of] service. It's definitely something that we're watching."
Moon Township Manager Jeanne Crease said the township is hoping inevitable cutbacks don't affect commuting residents, but said she would not speculate on the future of Port Authority service in Moon.
"The Port Authority has been adamant that it won't come to that," Crease said of initial transit reduction plans. "But we will just have to wait and see."