On March 27, Port Authority of Allegheny County will be cutting 15% of its routes. The cuts will completely cut of almost 9,000 riders from bus service and eliminate other routes for the rest of us while eliminating 200 good, family supporting jobs.
Port Authority CEO Steve Bland and County Executive Dan Onorato (the guys who promised us that their drink tax would save our buses) say that cuts are needed because of a $47 million budget shortfall. But that budget shortfall didn’t come out of thin air. Our bus system will always be struggling for two reasons:
1.) We haven’t made transit a priority. There is still no sustainable, predictable, dedicated public funding for our public transit system. Other communities fund their transit system by dedicating money from tolls, lotteries, or some small tax. Instead, our public transit system operates off of fares and whatever other money the transit system is able to scrape together.
2.) Onarato and Bland have failed to set aside the money they owe drivers for their pensions and retiree healthcare**. Instead of taking their full pay, bus drivers let Port Authority hold onto some of the money they were saving for retirement. Port Authority got the advantage of being allowed to stock the money away when it was financially convenient. But Port Authority didn’t save the money; they lost it on Wall St. So now the drivers’ pension fund is dramatically underfunded and we’re going to be forced to contribute tens of millions extra every year just to avoid defaulting on the obligations.
The Cuts Don’t Need to Happen
Despite Bland and Onorato’s stunning incompetence, the State has stepped in to provide emergency funding to keep our buses running. But rather than using the money to keep our buses running, they decided to try to teach us a lesson about financial responsibility and impose the cuts anyway!
Stand Up, Fight Back
This transit crisis isn’t our fault but we’re the ones who are going to be forced to pay. In the short term, the busses CAN run and the drivers CAN keep their jobs and pensions if we force Onorato and Bland to give in and spend the emergency funds to address the emergency. In the long term we need to make a serious investment in public transit and fund the drivers pensions so we can have a stable and sustainable public transit system for years to come.
**Woah there Teabagger—Before you start complaining about how we need to take away the drivers’ pensions, think a little bit. We CAN’T take away retired drivers pensions—they’ve already earned the money, it’s theirs not PAT’s. Cutting pensions for current drivers might do a little to cut costs, but the big problem isn’t future pension liability, it’s pension liability that’s already been accrued.