Serban Chitu is relieved that a $45 million infusion is likely to shore up the express bus service that shuttles him and hundreds of other Cranberry commuters between their homes and jobs or classes in Pittsburgh.
Still, Chitu said, he's not so sure that he and other riders who jam the 13K on its 13 daily round trips won't be fretting anew next year about finding another mode of transportation. That short-term funding fix won't keep the 13K – or other threatened bus routes around the region – running if the Port Authority doesn't find a permanent solution to its financial woes, he said.
"These problems don't go away," said Chitu, 40, a vice president in information technology at Bank of New York Mellon's client service center in Downtown Pittsburgh.
"[By depending on] this quick fix and that fix, they are dropping the ball, and we will be back in the same place again," he said. "I believe it's going to be a very big problem."
The 13K route, which runs between Pittsburgh and the Port Authority's park-and-ride lot at BladeRunners ice rink in neighboring Marshall, is the only one to serve Cranberry. Although the 13K traditionally has had high ridership, its 32-mile round trip makes it more costly to operate than other Port Authority routes.
Hence its inclusion among 47 routes that faced elimination under a wide-ranging Port Authority plan to eliminate a $47 million budget shortfall that followed cuts in state transportation funding.
The controversial plan called for a hike in fares in January, as well as hundreds of layoffs, drastic service reductions on other routes and an overall 35 percent decrease in Port Authority service by March 13.
But at least some of those steps were put on hold Monday night after the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, in a 27-22 vote, approved a plan pitched by outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell to shift $45 million in unused federal money to the Port Authority.
Commission approval was necessary to shift the federal money, which had been allocated to pay for construction projects that were not completed. The commission is the official planning entity for 10 counties in southwestern Pennslvania.
"It's good news, obviously. But it's a Band-Aid," Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said. "We're hearing frustration from people, and we understand that. We still have a long-term issue here."
The stopgap money initially was intended to stave off cuts and tide over the Port Authority for at least six months while it steps up efforts to persuade state legislators to increase its allocation and set aside a permanent funding stream for regional transit.
But Port Authority CEO Steve Bland told commission members Monday night that the authority may go through with some of the planned cuts as it determine how best to use the money – and how to make it last longer.
The authority now intends to stretch the money through June 30, 2012, in order to gain more time to lobby state lawmakers, Ritchie said.
"Port Authority still might have to reduce service but not at the 35 percent level that clearly would be overly damaging to the community," he said. "Port Authority staff currently is reviewing a few possible scenarios, and the authority's Board is expected to address this more specifically in January."
The board also is likely to decide then if it will go through with its proposed fare increases.
The uncertainty troubles Cranberry commuters, many of whom have lived through past threats of service reductions and figure the cuts are but a matter of time. They don't relish being forced to drive or make carpool arrangements – and to shell out money for gas and daily parking rates of $15 and up in Pittsburgh.
Among them is Steven Koehler, 20, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh who rides the 13K each day on his way to classes. The cost is covered by Pitt.
"I would be inconvenienced," he said. "It costs a lot of money to park in Oakland."
Cranberry Township Manager Jerry Andree said township officials have been looking for alternatives to help commuting residents if the 13K route is axed. They've considered building a new park-and-ride lot for commuters who are willing to carpool, he said, but there is little available space in the township.
"It's very hard to find anyone who can host it," he said. "If there's anyone out there with the space for a park and ride, we'd love to know about it."
Jessica Sinichak contributed.