Originally published: November 30, 2010
By Kalea Hall
Lucinda Beattie, vice president of transportation for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP), believes Pennsylvania voters need to let legislators know the transportation crisis is a "priority issue."
Mariann Geyer, vice president for external affairs, said the transportation crisis will have a "chilling effect" on all of Point Park's students.
Michael Potoczny, United Student Government president, said his goal is to keep "transportation to the school affordable."
As of Oct. 2010, 3,092 commuters attending Point Park University and representatives for the school have joined the PDP in making the transportation crisis a priority issue for legislators. On Nov. 24, the Port Authority Board of Directors voted in favor of administering service cuts in March 2011 and fare increases on Jan. 1, 2011. With their new website, keeppghmoving.com, the PDP has created a way for legislators to hear the voice of the Pittsburgh community, including Point Park University, speak about the transportation issue.
"Unless the legislature acts to fill the shortfall in PennDOT's (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) budget for this year, we will have those service cuts and this becomes an issue of voters letting their legislators know that this [issue] is a priority," Beattie said in a phone interview.
According to keeppghmoving.com, the transportation crisis began this past spring when the U.S. Department of Transportation declined to accept Pennsylvania's request to toll Interstate 80, resulting in a $472 million hole in PennDOT's budget. The state has yet to vote on providing any funding to fill that hole iand because of this, transportation services across the state, such as the Port Authority of Alleghney County, are facing budget problems.
In order to deal with the budget shortfall, the Port Authority will be cutting routes by 35 percent, increasing fare rates and laying off several Port Authority employees. The increase in fare rates, which will take place on Jan 1, 2011. will raise Zone 1 passes from $2.00 to $2.25 and Zone 2 passes from $2.75 to $3.25. A monthly Zone 1 pass's price will go from $80 to $90 and the price of a monthly Zone 2 pass will go from $105 to $130.
Beattie said the keeppghmoving.com website was created when the PDP realized the economic impact Downtown Pittsburgh would face if something was not done to fill the gap in Port Authority's budget.
"The issue becomes having jobs because the construction industry, [such as] engineering firms, are already starting to lay off employees in anticipation that there [won't] … be any work in 2012; well, there's going to be a ripple effect … through the construction industry, which will affect the trade union[s], so you can imagine the economic impact of all that," Beattie said.
Another issue that accompanies service cuts, is how current Downtown employees and students will make their commute. According to Beattie, the public transit system prevents congestion in Downtown because the nearly 140,000 commuters use the system to get to work or school instead of cars. Since the service cuts will be implemented in March, 5,000 or more additional cars will need to be parked in Downtown, but parking space is lacking.
"We really rely on public transit to make our Downtown the very livable … place that it is," Beattie said.
In order for the hole in the Port Authority's budget to be filled, Beattie believes the voters of Pittsburgh must send a message to their legislators via keeppghmoving.com, letting them know the transportation crisis is a priority issue.
"Legislators need to be prepared to act and … they are not going to act unless they feel that there is some urgency on the part of their constituents and that is why using the website and sending your legislator[s] a message can make a difference this time," Beattie said.Geyer, the community voice for Point Park on the website, said the site provides the public with the opportunity to understand the transportation issue and to "express their thoughts" on the issue. She believes all students on Point Park's campus will be affected by the transportation crisis.
"A decrease in affordable accessible mass transit impacts everyone, from the student attending classes at night or on a weekend, to the student commuting … from the suburbs to students living on campus using transit to get to locations outside of the city," Geyer said in an e-mail interview.
The transportation crisis has encouraged the United Student Government (USG) to get involved. On Nov. 16, members of USG gathered with the Pittsburgh Student Government Council [PSGC] to discuss the transportation issue with Pittsburgh's city council.
USG President Michael Potoczny said, with city council's backing, PSGC will be sending a letter to Harrisburg to "encourage legislators to not cut transportation funding for the Port Authority."
"The goal of this letter is to help our student body. This does not only impact our commuters, it impacts our resident students too. Resident students often use the Port Authority to [access] work, leisure and travel home. Ultimately, this will cost all students more," Potoczny said in an e-mail interview.
Potoczny said USG will also be using keeppghmoving.com as a resource to "voice" their opinions to legislators.
Jim Ritchie, spokesman for the Port Authority, said with a 35 percent reduction in service, every Port Authority route will be affected. He believes the website is a helpful tool in resolving the financial crisis.
"Any effort to shine light on the real issue that threatens all forms of transportation in this region is helpful," Ritchie said in an e-mail interview. "If state funding is not restored for programs that pave roads and provide transit service, transportation will become increasingly difficult across this region."
Although Beattie would like to think the website will change the outcome of the transportation crisis, she said she is "not naive enough" to think it will result in the sole difference. In her opinion, it is up to Pennsylvania voters to tell legislators how important it is for the Port Authority to receive more funding.
"I would encourage as many people as possible to use … keeppghmoving.com … because it will be those messages to legislators that make a difference," Beattie said.