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Federal, state money to keep ACCESS service rolling for elderly, disabled

Port Authority of Allegheny County’s door-to-door ACCESS service will be unaffected for now by historic service cuts scheduled for September, officials said on Friday.

The ACCESS program, which largely serves seniors and people with disabilities, will receive $3.65 million in state and federal funding to prevent cuts that would have eliminated service to about 1,800 riders daily.

“A lot of people depend on ACCESS, so we’re extremely pleased,” said John Tague, 65, of Greenfield, who uses a wheelchair and sits on the Committee for Accessible Transportation, an advisory group for the agency. “But it’s only temporary.”

ACCESS cuts would have mirrored ones taking effect Sept. 2 in Port Authority’s traditional bus system, including elimination of service in outlying areas of the county. Federal law requires transit companies to provide door-to-door service within three-quarters of a mile from existing bus routes.

For more than three decades, Port Authority has provided enough funding for ACCESS to cover the entire county, even if its own transit service did not. But Port Authority officials said early this year that they could no longer afford to do more than was legally required, so the drastic elimination of bus routes would shrink the ACCESS coverage area as well.

Port Authority plans to eliminate 46 of its 102 routes and scale back all remaining ones as part of an effort to close a $64 million budget deficit. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is trying to broker a combined $25 million in concessions from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 and management and secure up to $35 million in added state funding to prevent the cuts.

The money for ACCESS will enable the program to continue serving all of Allegheny County through at least September 2013, Port Authority officials said. Legislation pending in Harrisburg would ensure the entire county is guaranteed ACCESS coverage permanently through the state People With Disabilities program.

Tague said, “In some respect, (ACCESS funding) was the low-hanging fruit, something that we could go after and be successful in obtaining. But that money isn’t necessarily going to be there next year.”

Wheelchair user Jonathan Robison, a member of the Allegheny County Transit Council advisory group, described the ACCESS bailout as “a necessary, good step that will prevent people from worrying about losing what in many cases is their only source of transportation.”

ACCESS rider Lucy Spruill, the public policy director for the advocacy group UCP/Class in Oakland, agreed.

“This will allow (people with disabilities living outside the Port Authority service area) to leave their homes for work, health care and to enjoy meaningful lives,” Spruill said. “But the bad news is we have a lot of work left to do. We’re just going to be standing on the edge of a catastrophe again next year if we don’t get the whole system adequately funded.”

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].


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