PITTSBURGH — Demanding full state funding to maintain bus and trolley service, a coalition of unions, workers, businesses, educational institutions and local politicians organized a march here Nov. 4 to save the Allegheny Port Authority (PAT). Hundreds marched through rain-soaked downtown streets to a public hearing.

“Losing is not an option,” Save Our Transit coalition leader Steve Donahue roared to marchers before they stepped off from the State Building. “We are going to Harrisburg (the state capital) and we will stay there until the Legislature acts. We will fast until they appropriate our money to keep buses affordable and accessible.”

Mass transit is in crisis. If the state Legislature does not act to address chronic underfunding by Nov. 30, PAT says it will be forced to slash weekend and holiday service; end ACCESS, which provides transportation to thousands of elderly and disabled residents; curtail the Mon Incline, a cable car service which enables residents to navigate steep hillsides; and raise the fare by 75 percent to $2.50 per ride. The Legislature’s indifference to PAT’s problems forced fare increases in 2001 and 2002.

“This is a difficult day for all of us and most, for our customers,” said Paul Skoutelas, PAT’s chief executive officer. “Rather than having to reduce service, we should be holding hearings on how to expand public transportation.”

Speaking on behalf of his membership, Patrick McMahon, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, called for a permanent financial fix and denounced the Band-Aid approach by the state Legislature.

Of the 28 invited state legislators, only two, Rep. Don Walko and Sen. Jim Ferlo, attended the public hearing.

Testimony dramatized a grave crisis. Tom Lamb, manager of government relations for Pittsburgh National Bank, told the hearing that half of the bank’s 6,500 workers depend on PAT and that quality, affordable service was a “major factor” in the financial corporation’s decision to build their $150 million downtown office complex.

College officials and student leaders predicted that transit cuts would be devastating. Alik Wedge, spokesman for 3,000 colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University, said that classes and research extends far beyond five days a week, 9-to-5. Dr. Charles Blocksidge, vice president of Allegheny County Community College, called mass transit “indispensable” for his school’s 30,000 students, noting that 1,800 special needs students depend solely on PAT.

Save Our Transit filled four buses Nov. 10 to take demands of Allegheny County residents directly to the State Assembly.