Message from the ATU, “Come Out Tomorrow!”

Video by Marvin Bing from today’s union rally downtown in solidarity with Wisconsin workers.

 Pittsburgh Rally and Press Conference for Public Transportation
25 February · 08:30 10:00

Mellon Square Park

Mellon Square Park. 6th & Smithfield, Pittsburgh (Downtown), PA 15219
Pittsburgh, PA

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Enjoy your bus ride while it lasts because on March 27, County Executive Dan Onorato, Chief Executive Officer of the Port Authority, Chief Financial Officer Steve Bland and members of the Port Authority are slashing bus routes all over the county.

This is what the Port Authority audit said in June, 2010:

“At a time when the economic downturn is hurting metropolitan areas and residents across the country, these service reduction are occurring at the worst possible time. Service cuts, layoffs, and fare increases will result inn significant traffic congestion, adverse economic impacts on businesses across the region and the loss of an essential lifeline to many seniors, youth and the disabled.”


1-Why kill jobs? Why Kill jobs with record high unemployment?

2-Why are you hurting the disabled and students, the middle class, seniors, and workers who depend on transit?

3-Cutting Bus service puts more cars on the street and increases air pollution. Why do that?

4-don’t we have enough traffic congestion already?

There is $21 million available to run the system. There is no need to cut services.





Bad deal on bonds costs Port Authority $39.2M

Thursday, February 17, 2011
By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Port Authority this week paid a bank $39.2 million to escape from a bond deal it entered seven years ago that turned out sour.

The payment to Bank of America Merrill Lynch canceled a complicated and risky transaction called an interest-rate “swaption” that the authority agreed to in 2004, partly to reap a $9.5 million upfront windfall.

The payment was part of a $263.3 million refinancing bond issue that the authority completed on Tuesday.

The cost of the payment will be spread over Port Authority budgets starting next year and continuing to 2029, adding $2.3 million in debt service expense per year, authority officials said.

Because the authority pays debt service from its capital budget, the added cost will not impact operations or require service cuts, spokesman Jim Ritchie said. But it will reduce the amount available for longer-term projects such as bridge, busway and rail reconstruction.

“It’s essentially a refinancing. We’re trying to get out of an arrangement that was putting us in greater financial jeopardy,” he said.

The authority agreed to the swaption deal with Merrill Lynch in 2004, during the administration of CEO Paul Skoutelas. Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch in 2008.

Ellen McLean, the current chief financial officer, who joined the authority last October, said the swaption deal enabled the agency to cash in on anticipated future savings from debt refinancing. But it also exposed the authority to risks based on interest-rate fluctuation.

The collapse of the credit markets in 2008 and 2009 drove down rates and left the authority’s side of the swap at a considerably lower value than what it would be paying out.

It also gave Merrill Lynch the option to convert the authority’s debt to a variable interest rate starting March 1, she said. “What we knew was the volatility in the market would create such a difficulty in budgeting … it was impossible to budget for.

“It made absolutely no sense as a public agency to take on that volatility,” Ms. McLean said.

“We reached a point because of the market downturn where this clearly didn’t turn out the way anybody was predicting,” Mr. Ritchie said. “It does not make sense for us to continue down this path.”

This week’s refinancing extracted the authority from the deal and put all of its bonded debt at an average fixed interest rate of 5.29 percent.

The authority is not alone in being victimized by swap deals. Several Pennsylvania school districts and municipal governments lost big money on interest-rate swaps, deals that produced big upfront windfalls but exposed them to losses when rates fell.

State Auditor General Jack Wagner last year urged school districts to get out of such deals as quickly as possible, saying “interest-rate swaps are tantamount to gambling with taxpayer money.”

Bloomberg News, reporting on the Port Authority bond issue, said it has compiled data showing that borrowers across the U.S. have paid more than $4 billion to get out of swap contracts.

Randy Woolridge, professor of finance at Penn State University, said he was unfamiliar with the circumstances of the Port Authority’s deal. Generally, he said, “a lot of these [swaps] have turned bad because they’re all doing the same thing. They hedged against higher interest rates and the rates went down. As a result, these things are underwater.

“Everyone thinks interest rates and stocks are always going up,” he said.
If there was a bright side to the authority’s action this week, it was that the three big New York agencies raised its credit rating.

Fitch assigned the bonds an AA-minus rating, up from A; Moody’s assigned an A1, up from A2; and Standard & Poors gave them an A-plus, up from A.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit “The Roundabout,” the Post-Gazette’s transportation blog, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

First published on February 17, 2011 at 12:00 am


Our bus drivers, technicians, and other Amalgamated Transit Union workers will be having a rally tomorrow (2/15) at 4pm downtown at the County Courthouse in support of President
McMahon’s address to County Council.  As many PPTers as possible
should be there!


Next Meeting
19 February · 12:00 – 15:00

Location University of Pittsburgh – Posvar Hall room 5203

Pittsburgh, PA

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More info Really important meeting, we’ll be discussing the upcoming march in Squirrel Hill on 3/19, the upcoming publication of our newsletter, and promotion for both items. Please be there!

Proposed March transit cuts to affect Oakland routes

Re-posted from Pitt’s University Times:


The Port Authority of Allegheny County will cut its service by 15 percent, including some service to Oakland, beginning March 27.

The plan, approved last week by the Port Authority board, will eliminate 29 routes and cause 180 employee layoffs. The plan amends a scheduled 35 percent service cut that was set to go into effect in March, prior to a $45 million infusion of emergency state funds announced by outgoing Gov. Edward G. Rendell in December. (See Jan. 6 University Times.)

Under the revamped plan approved Jan. 12, weekday service cuts will be made on 37 routes instead of 79; 63 routes will remain unchanged. Service to about half of the ridership will be affected, Port Authority officials estimated. The new plan is expected to produce an estimated 5 percent weekday ridership loss, that is, about 12,000 fewer passenger trips each weekday. The transit company’s average weekday ridership is 240,000.

The transit company also will close its Harmar garage.

The 15 percent reduction allows the transit company to stretch the emergency funding from the commonwealth over 18 months, through June 30, 2012.

Port Authority CEO Steve Bland said at the Jan. 12 public board meeting, “We want it to be absolutely clear that this is only a temporary solution and a painful one at that. We’re going to work very aggressively with the state legislature to find a sustainable transit solution. We’ve only bought some time.”

Absent a permanent fix to the chronic budget shortfalls, Bland said the Port Authority likely will reinstitute the 35 percent service cuts approved under the previous plan, although he did not specify when such cuts might occur.

The March cuts will be the fourth phase of service reduction, which began last April, followed by cuts in June and September.

Under a five-year contract with the Port Authority that runs through June 30, 2012, Pitt is paying $5.91 million for the current fiscal year (2010-11) for free bus rides for its valid ID holders. Pitt riders account for about 6 million rides annually, according to the Port Authority.

The contract includes a re-opener clause wherein either party with 60 days’ notice prior to the end of a contract year may demand a renegotiation of the fee for the following year. Pitt is contracted to pay $6.8 million for the year July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012, an increase of 15 percent over the current year.

Eli Shorak, associate vice chancellor for Business, told the University Times, “The University’s agreement with the Port Authority does include language acknowledging that the compensation paid by the University is in consideration for a certain level and type of service. The University does plan to consult with the Port Authority regarding service modifications and the impact these may have on our riders. These discussions may also include recommended compensation adjustments if it is determined that service modifications have a significant impact on the University’s overall ridership levels.”

The contract also calls for a renegotiation of the annual fee to be triggered by the installation of “smart card” technology on all Port Authority vehicles, a process that has been slowed by technology glitches, Port Authority officials have said.

That program will change the way Pitt riders are counted, with fare boxes that scan Pitt ID cards replacing the system of drivers manually tracking the number of Pitt riders. The new system is expected to eliminate human error and catch invalid IDs, thus yielding a more accurate count of Pitt rides, Port Authority officials noted.

The University’s payment to the Port Authority is subsidized in part by the $90 per term security, safety and transportation fee that Pittsburgh campus students pay. (The balance comes from the auxiliary operations budget of the Office of Parking, Transportation and Services.)

John Fedele, Pitt associate director of news, said that students will not face an increase in fees in the near term.

“There is likely no need for student fee increases in the near future. Once Port Authority has the smart card put on all transportation, we will review this,” Fedele said.

Among the Oakland service cuts starting March 27 are:
• 42 Mt. Lebanon-Oakland bus will have weekday service eliminated (there is no weekend service on this route).
• 54C Northside-Oakland-South Side will see service increased on Saturdays and decreased on Sundays; weekday service remains unchanged.
• 58 Greenfield will have service reduced on weekdays and weekends.
• 61A East Pittsburgh-Wilkinsburg is being rerouted (ending the route sooner at the Wilkinsburg end); the 61B Braddock-Swissvale will be rerouted to serve North Braddock in lieu of the 61A.
• 65 Squirrel Hill will have service reduced on weekdays (there is no weekend service on this route).
• 67 Monroeville will have service reduced on weekdays and weekends.
• 67E Greensburg Pike will be eliminated on weekdays (there is no weekend service).
• 67J Lincoln Highway will be eliminated on weekdays (there is no weekend service).
•  69 Trafford will have service reduced on weekdays and weekends.
• 71A Negley will have service reduced on weekdays and weekends.
• 71C Point Breeze will have service reduced on weekdays and Saturdays, with no change on Sundays.
• 71D Hamilton will have service reduced on weekdays and Saturdays, with no change on Sundays.
• 75 Ellsworth will have service reduced on weekdays and eliminated on weekends.
• 81 Oak Hill will have service reduced on weekdays and weekends.
• 83 Webster will have service reduced on weekdays and weekends.
• 84B Oakland Loop will be eliminated.
• 93 Lawrenceville-Oakland will have service reduced on weekdays and eliminated on weekends.
• EBA will be renamed P1 East Busway-All Stops. Service will be reduced on weekdays and weekends.
• G Greensburg Pike Flyer will have service reduced on weekdays (there is no weekend service on this route).
• G2 West Busway-Oakland will have service to Oakland eliminated and the route will be renamed G2 West Busway-All Stops.
• P3 East Busway-Oakland will have service reduced on weekdays (there is no weekend service).
Service to Robinson Towne Center via the 28X Airport Flyer, which had been eliminated last April, will be restored.
Transit fares were raised Jan. 2 to help counter a budget shortfall for the current fiscal year, Port Authority officials said. By law the transit company must balance its budget. Passenger fares cover about a quarter of the Port Authority’s expenses.
Details of the 15 percent service reduction are available at or by calling customer service at 412/442-2000 or the TTY number, 412/231-7007.
—Peter Hart



                   FRIDAY JANUARY 28TH 2011 8:30 AM

Bleeding Wound (re-posted)

A cut is still a cut. No matter how big or small it is, a cut still bleeds. Right now, the public transit system in Pittsburgh is a bleeding wound. Despite the efforts by outgoing Governor Rendell to supply a band-aid to the Port Authority for this fiscal year and prevent our transit system from deteriorating even more, pressure from other elected officials, including County Executive Onorato, to stretch the supplemental funding over 18 months has made it that route cuts will still occur in March.

While many people may say to look at the positive aspects, that instead of a 35% cut we now only face a 15% cut, the result remains the same; The Pittsburgh public transit community is losing accessibility to our area. The only change to circumstances is that instead of ripping the bandage off quickly and inflicting the pain all at once, now we will have to the feel the pain slowly, each time the Port Authority continues to need to make more cuts and rips the band-aid off a little more.

According to County Executive Onorato, it was necessary to stretch the $45 million in band-aid funding  over 18 months as we could not expect our legislators in Harrisburg to find a transportation funding solution in the 6 months before the Port Authority’s fiscal year changes in July. Perhaps because he was running for Governor, Onorato fails to remember that the application to toll I-80 was denied a third time in April 2010 and the State legislature failed to take action throughout the remainder of the year. Thus the entire state transportation system has not had a secure source of funding since.

The bleeding wound that is Pittsburgh’s public transit system will not heal until our legislators put in the time needed and take action to fulfill the responsibilities of their positions as elected officials. The continuing cuts to the Port Authority are just the ramifications from the failure of Act 44. Use our links at the left to contact your legislators and tell them this issue needs to be a priority as they return to Harrisburg. Pittsburgh’s public transit community deserves action now! Subscribe to our blog or join our Facebook page to keep informed on the Port Authority and its effects on our community. Join us! Speak out! PublicTransit4Pittsburgh~Advocating for Access

Read more about the cuts approved today here:
Union opposes plan to extend transit bailout
Port Authority approves 15% transit cut
Check out today’s approved cuts on our PAT Changes page

BREAKING: Port Authority approves 15% transit cut, routes and jobs to be eliminated

From the Post Gazette today:
Port Authority approves 15% transit cut
By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
See the Port Authority’s service changes that take effect March 27.

The Port Authority board of directors today approved a 15 percent transit service reduction effective March 27.

Board member Jeffrey Letwin said the decision caused him “intense anguish” but said the board’s job was to “save what we can.”

Today’s vote amended a scheduled 35 percent cut that had been scheduled for March before Gov. Ed Rendell provided $45 million in emergency funding.

Under the revised plan, 29 routes will be eliminated instead of 47. Weekday service cuts will be imposed on 37 routes instead of 79. Service to about half of the authority’s riders will be unchanged.

Today’s action will eliminate 270 authority positions, including 180 layoffs and closure of the Harmar garage.

Patrick McMahon, president of Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, called the action “an unnecessary mistake.”

He said the board should have maintained current service levels to force the legislature to solve statewide transportation funding problems sooner rather than later.

Board members, however, said doing so posed the risk of catastrophic cuts as soon as July if the legislature didn’t act.
More details in tomorrow’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

First published on January 12, 2011 at 11:01 am

PGH Post-Gazette – Transit union opposes stretching of funds

Thursday, December 23, 2010
By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The union representing Port Authority drivers and mechanics is opposed to a plan to make smaller transit service cuts and spread $45 million in emergency state funding over 18 months instead of six.

Patrick McMahon, president of Local 85, Amalgamated Transit Union, said in a letter this week that the union disagrees with a proposal to stretch the funding provided by Gov. Ed Rendell over a longer period. That presumably would give the Legislature and the incoming governor, Tom Corbett, more time to find a permanent solution to chronic transit funding problems.

Stretching the funding would require service cuts, but smaller than the record-breaking 35 percent reduction that was planned for March 13 before Mr. Rendell stepped in.

“The governor’s intention was to prevent cuts in transit services in 2011, giving the new governor and Legislature six months to act on a transit funding formula that fairly and adequately provides for public transit at current levels,” Mr. McMahon said in a letter to Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.

“We believe our fight is now. … Do not impose further pain on transit riders and commuters by misusing the funding the governor has delivered,” he wrote.

Port Authority officials denied an allegation by a union spokesman that the board decided during a private conference call to cut service by 15 percent in March and close the Harmar bus garage.

AFL-CIO spokesman Marty Marks said such a call appeared to violate the state’s open meetings law. “It’s not fair to take the public out of the process,” he said.

Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said there was a conference call on Dec. 8 to brief board members about the options for using the emergency funding. “There was no deliberation on [the board’s] part and there was certainly no vote,” he said.

“We haven’t had that conversation yet,” board Chairman Jack Brooks said. He said the board likely will hold a special meeting in early January to decide on a course of action.

The board voted last month to raise fares on Jan. 1 and cut service in March by 35 percent, eliminating 47 routes and more than 500 jobs, to fill a projected $47 million deficit in its 2010-11 budget.

Mr. Rendell on Dec. 2 announced that he had found $45 million that was unspent on other projects and could be used to balance the authority’s budget through June 30 without service cuts.

The goal was to give Mr. Corbett and the Legislature time to address the larger issue of a statewide transportation funding shortfall caused by the Federal Highway Administration’s rejection of the state’s plan to toll Interstate 80.

The decision reduced the funding available for highways, bridges and transit from $922.5 million for fiscal 2010-11 to $450 million.

With the state facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit of its own, some viewed the prospects for action on transportation funding by June to be remote.

Mr. Onorato floated the idea of stretching Mr. Rendell’s emergency funding over 18 months, giving the new governor and Legislature an additional year to act. He did so just before a crucial vote of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a regional planning agency, on whether to accept the money.

The funding was approved in a 27-22 vote.

“We respectfully disagree with your assertion the incoming Legislature needs eighteen months to solve transit funding inequities,” Mr. McMahon wrote to Mr. Onorato.

“More than three-quarters of legislators are returning to serve another term. These issues are not new to them, and our new governor has been a statewide elected official for eight years, surely enough time to have become well-acquainted with high-profile, critical state issues affecting millions of our citizens.”

“We agree with Local 85 that this isn’t an ideal solution,” Mr. Ritchie said. “What’s needed, obviously, is a permanent solution to the statewide transportation funding crisis.”
Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit “The Roundabout,” the Post-Gazette’s transportation blog, at

First published on December 23, 2010 at 12:00 am

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