Jan Cahill knows the only Port Authority bus to serve Cranberry Township -- the 13K Marshall Express -- is set for elimination on March 27, but she's holding out for divine intervention.
“I want a miracle to happen so our bus doesn’t go away,” she said. “I love riding that bus.”
In January, the of Allegheny County moved forward with plans to lay off 180 employees and reduce its service by 15 percent. Among the 29 routes set for elimination is the popular 13K, which makes 13 trips between Pittsburgh and the Port Authority's park-and-ride lot at BladeRunners ice rink in neighboring Marshall Township.
Originally, 47 routes were set to be axed before the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission approved a plan pitched by former Gov. Ed Rendell to shift $45 million in unused federal money to the Port Authority.
But that didn't save the 13K.
Cahill, a Mars resident, has been a rider on the bus for close to a decade. So have many of the “Bus Bunnies,” a group of women she became friends with after years of riding together.
“There’s really a sense of community that’s going to be gone,” said Bus Bunny Ginger Ferrero, a Cranberry resident.
On Thursday, the group was part of the standing-room-only crowd that packed the Cranberry Township Municipal Center's council chambers in the hopes of learning more about ride-sharing with CommuteInfo. The program operated through the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission helps link commuters from 10 different counties surrounding Pittsburgh with carpools and vanpools to and from the city.
Program Developer Lisa Kay Schweyer gave an hour-long presentation on how car pooling and vanpooling works. For the vanpool, she said, seven to 15 people may lease a van through the program. At least two people must volunteer as drivers, and provides lessons on how to steer the van.
Depending on the number of people, she said, the average estimated cost-per-passenger is between $90 and $110 per month. That includes the lease of the vehicle, insurance, maintenance, and the price of gas.
CommuteInfo also helps link commuters with carpools based on their arrival and departure times from the city.
Once the meeting concluded, Schweyer invited those interested to break into groups to discuss ridesharing. A CommuteInfo van also was parked outside the center for participants to view.
Keith Baker, of Cranberry, is considering following through with that plan.
Baker attended the meeting with Steve Leblanc and Jim Constantino – friends he made through years of riding the bus. He said the three of them would think about forming a carpool once the 13K is eliminated.
“We’re probably leaning toward doing it,” he said.
Still, he’d rather take the bus. And he wouldn’t mind if the Port Authority raised its fare from $6.50 to $10 per round trip to make that happen. That would be cheaper, he said, than paying for parking downtown.
“People would pay it,” he said. “My average cost now is going to be $15 or $16 a day to park anyway.”
Nancy Bowers said she, too, would pay a higher fee if it meant the 13K were removed from the chopping block.
“I would pay $10 a day for the convenience of keeping what we have,” she said.
Rebecca Kennedy, a Cranberry resident who was vocal about her anger with the Port Authority’s cutbacks, said she’d consider driving a little further to take the New Castle Area Transit Authority’s service to Pittsburgh. Despite its distance from Downtown, she said that fare, at $3 per trip, is less than what the Port Authority charges.
“That just shows you how the Port Authority is ripping us off,” she said.
Then there are private options.
Charles Lenzner, owner of Lenzner Coach Lines, a Sewickley-based company with a fleet of 75 vehicles ranging from passenger vans to sightseeing trolleys, said he’s interested in providing a bus to the city.
Westinghouse Electric Company, he said, already uses his company to transport employees from Monroeville, where the company used to have its headquarters, to its current location in Cranberry.
If there’s enough interest, he said a company bus could pick up commuters at the PennDOT-owned park and ride loy in Mount Nebo, near the Lenzner Coach Lines headquarters.
“We’re trying to see what’s going on and help in some way to replace what they’re losing in transit with another option,” he said after Thursday’s meeting.
John Trant, Cranberry’s chief strategic planning officer, said collaborating with CommuteInfo is just one of the resources the township is exploring to help residents find alternative transportation in and out of Downtown.
Cranberry, he added, also is looking to partner with the private sector to find transportation for its residents. Township manager Jerry Andree pointed out that finding available space in Cranberry Township for a park-and-ride lot would be difficult.
“We’re working on it,” Trant said.