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Getting Around: Mention of their pay ticks off Port Authority drivers

Sunday, December 17, 2000

By Joe Grata, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Transportation tidbits make up today's column agenda. So ...Not surprisingly, several Port Authority employees and spouses barked because I ended last week's column about the pending 25-cent base fare increases by reporting that bus and trolley operators now make $19.87 an hour and have a labor contract expiring less than a year from now.

They thought I was trying to imply riders will have to ante more money because of their salaries, but they conveniently ignored my many points about how inflation has caught up after 10 years, how the state cut back $10 million in aid, and how transit remains a bargain.

"Monk" pointed out that his costs have gone up, too. In addition, he said, "It isn't easy putting up with [anatomy part] eight hours a day, although most riders are decent people."

"Straubs" wanted everyone to know not all operators make $19.87.

And here's how "Lindalove24" scolded me in an e-mail: "I doubt you have ever been held up at gunpoint, spit on by someone who shorted the farebox for the third night in a row or had a coffee thrown in your face for telling a rider that strollers aren't allowed in the aisle. You are not responsible for getting hundreds of people home safely in snowstorms, bad traffic jams and road construction," etc.

Dear Monk: While I agree with you that the price of your bread, beer and gas have gone up, so has your salary -- by $1.53 an hour since the existing four-year contract was ratified in January 1998. That's a bigger raise than a lot of people have received.

Dear Straubs: While you're earning $12.91 an hour, you've been working at the Port Authority for only nine months. The overwhelming majority of drivers are being paid $19.87 an hour. Plus premium pay for holidays. Plus overtime. Be patient. You'll be there soon.

Lindalove24: I know the job can be tough, but how about the job hazards of being a member of the police department? The FOP's union pay scale is about the same as the Port Authority's. The hassles of the job don't change my point about the pay.

Funny, but Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 officers didn't complain to me. Or course, they also didn't have anything to say about a fare increase. Then again, Local 85 officers haven't said much more than "hello" for three years now.

People in public positions are going to have their pay made public, just as salaries were last month when the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll collectors ratified a contract paying them $17.12 an hour, and as they will be eight months from now when the authority starts negotiations for a new union contract.

Another thing: I don't discriminate. Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Paul Skoutelas' $180,000 base salary has appeared in the PG many times.

Glenn A. Walsh of Mt. Lebanon, a long-time transit rider and public advocate, made two interesting proposals when he testified at a recent Port Authority public hearing about raising transit fares in Allegheny County.

He supported a 35-cent increase in the Zone 1 base fare to $1.60 so the Port Authority could receive the highest possible reimbursement from the state lottery fund for providing free off-peak rides to senior citizens. First, only 20 percent of riders pay cash; second, the authority would then collect the same reimbursement as Philadelphia-based Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, already at $1.60.

A far more daring proposal would be to maintain the existing $1.25 base fare for members of the community currently enrolled in unemployment compensation, welfare or the food stamp program. Confirming the eligibility of people requesting a special transit fare card would be easy because recipient records are computerized.

Walsh said the transit agency that developed a model Access paratransit program replicated by other cities has an opportunity to lead the nation in dealing with an important social problem of our times: "freedom of mobility."

"People who can afford an increased fare would pay their fair share, still only half of the true cost of a transit ride," Walsh said. "Assistance would be given to members of the community who have trouble paying for life's necessities."


Alan R. Huffman of Mars disputed my saying in a Dec. 3 column that the 252-foot-high dual bridges being built in the Monongahela area as part of the Mon-Fayette Expressway will be the second highest in the state when finished.

"Both they and the Interstate 80 (dual) bridges at Emlenton are exceeded in height by the Kinzua Bridge at 301 feet," he e-mailed. "At the time of its construction in 1881, it was reported to be the highest and longest (2,053 feet) railroad bridge in the world."

Dear Alan:

Thank you for the information; I don't dispute your facts. And if I ever find myself driving over the Kinzua railroad bridge, I agree with your observation: "You've made a very wrong turn somewhere."

Gifts du jour. Old-fashioned sleigh rides that "come to you," that is, your home, with or without Santa Claus. No snow required. For information, call Tim Swickrath at 412-781-4532. Prices vary according to distance, event etc.

A remote automobile starter, to fire up your engine by remote control from the comfort of your home. Among dealers who sell and install the systems is R.T. Grim Electronics, Pleasant Hills, at 412-655-1574. Prices start at $149, including installation.

Plate du jour. I spotted the Pennsylvania license plate STP2WIN on a car parked at the Mon Wharf. I always figured people RUN2WIN.

Please send your questions, complaints and suggestions to Joe Grata c/o The Post-Gazette or e-mail him at Include your name, address and a daytime phone number.

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