Sunday, December 5, 2010

Grant to allow purchase of new Port Authority buses

Published in: The Globe
Originally published: October 12, 2010
By Kalea Hall 

Jim Ritchie, Director of Public Relations for Pittsburgh Port Authority, said the transit company will "benefit greatly" from the grant they received on Oct. 4.
As a result, Port Authority will be able to purchase new buses so the older ones can be removed from its fleet, lessening the chance that Point Park University students will experience delays.
"It is a competitive grant; it is not something that we normally get," Ritchie said in a phone interview.

Ritchie explained that even though the Port Authority has been awarded the grant, services and the price of fares will not be affected. The Port Authority has two separate budgets, the capital budget and the operating budget. The operating budget covers their "day to day expenses," whereas the capital budget covers the purchase of new buses, equipment for the light rail system and paving bus routes The capital budget is funded by federal grants, state grants, or is borrowed.
"Buying buses is a typical expense that we usually borrow money for, and this year we are going to benefit greatly because we got almost $23 million," Ritchie said.
The Port Authority is allowed to spend the grant money on capital expenses.
"What is complex about our financing is we have an operating budget and a capital budget and uder the law, we can't use capital money to help balance our operating budget even if we wanted to," Ritchie said.
With the grant money being directed toward the purchase of new buses, the Port Authority will benefit financially since the average age of its apporximately 830 buses is six to seven years.
"It is a financial difficulty because those buses tend to have more maintenance problems and it is more expensive for us to keep them up and running," Ritchie said.
When a bus breaks down, it not only affects the Port Authority, but it is an "inconvenience for the rider," according to Ritchie.
"That's one of our biggest complaints, is when you're standing and waiting and [the bus] doesn't show up. A lot of the time, it is because [it] broke down," Ritchie said.
Holly Cardillo, a freshman early childhood education major, commutes from Brookline to Point Park and dealt with a broken-down bus in the past.
"I was almost late for class because my bus [broke down and] never showed up," Cardillo said.
Despite the new buses, students are concerned about more service cuts and fare increases that have been proposed to take place if Port Authority does not fix their budget.
Jesse Padjune, a freshman creative writing major, thinks the purchase of the new buses is "fine," but is concerned about service being cut.
"It sucks that a lot of them are cut because now you have to stand all the time," Padjune said.
Port Authority will be buying 53 buses this fiscal year, which began June 30 and ends July 1 of next year. Of those, roughly 25 are 40-foot-long buses and about 20 are 60-foot articulated buses, according to Ritchie.
"We tend to get a mix of them, and the way we decided where they need to go is where the need is greatest," Ritchie said.
The 40-foot buses that were purchased this year will arrive next summer, and the articulated buses will arrive in December 2011. Port Authority also wants to purchase at least 70 more buses next year with the grant money, but that plan has yet to be approved.
Ritchie said he sees no downsides to receiving the grant money to purchase the buses, even though it cannot be directed toward the operating budget.
"It's really nice for us, and it does have a number of benefits even financially, on the capital side. It's real money but it does not help us with [the] deficit that we are facing right now due to the statewide crisis, so that would be the downside of it all," Ritchie said. :But we are still hopeful with the operating budget."

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