Lola S. of Greenfield’s letter to the Post-Gazette raises a couple points that beg to be addressed. She criticizes the “free” rides that senior citizens receive on Port Authority buses and trains and says charging them 25 cents or 50 cents “might generate the money needed to get the taxpayers off the hook.”

Sorry, Lola, but it wouldn’t. The state already pays the Port Authority for each senior citizen rider, using money raised from lottery ticket sales. So, while the senior citizens don’t pay for themselves, the Port Authority is already making collecting fares for those rides.

Also, the Port Authority had 67,271,689 riders (including senior citizens) in the budget year that ended June 30.* If each of those riders paid an additional 50 cents, it would have raised just under $34 million. During that same budget year, the Port Authority received about $240 million from federal, state, and local taxpayers to fund operations.

The Port Authority was set up in the 1960s because the private companies that operated the county’s bus, rail, and trolley lines were losing money and would have eliminated transit service. The government stepped in because the community believed transit was a public service that deserved taxpayer support. The Port Authority was never intended to be financed completely through the fares paid by riders.

Individuals can agree or disagree with that policy choice. I agree with it. And as taxpayers who finance the lion’s share of the Port Authority’s operations, we can – and should – work to ensure that we receive the best value for our money, and that the Port Authority operates in the most effective way possible in providing public transit service for the people of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski 

* I would love to link to the Port Authority’s annual or monthly ridership report to show the source of the number, but it’s not on the website.