Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Anna Scott and Maryam Razzaq v. The Port Authority of Allegheny County, No. GD 80-24371.
Robert M. Brown, with him Dennis L. Veraldi and Jeffrey M. Johnston, Ruffin, Hazlett, Snyder, Brown & Stabile, for appellant.
James W. Carroll, with him Catherine T. Martin, for appellees.
Marilyn Skolnick, with her Richard Meritzer and Kathryn Dolinar, for Amicus Curiae, Transit Advocates and Patrons.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Rogers, Blatt, Williams, Jr. and Craig. Opinion by Judge Craig. Judge Williams, Jr. concurs in the result only.
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These appeals are from orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in a statutory action commenced by two mass transit patrons as plaintiffs against the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which operates the mass transit bus, trolley and train system for that region. Plaintiffs filed the action October 3, 1980, under the Second Class County Port Authority Act*fn1 to challenge a fare increase effective November 2, 1980 which, with various subordinate provisions detailed in the opinion below, raised the base central zone fare to 75 cents, the base fare for the other 13 zones to 65 cents, and the transfer charge from 10 cents to 25 cents. Earlier, in March of 1980,
[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 634]
the authority had increased the basic fare from 50 cents to 60 cents.
Judge Silvestri Silvestri conducted extensive hearings over the period March 2, 1981 through March 11, 1981. At trial, the plaintiffs presented expert testimony supporting a 60-cent base fare as a reasonable level. On May 26 following, the hearing judge issued a lengthy opinion and detailed order which reduced the single-zone base fare to 50 cents for all zones except the downtown central zone, which was set at 60 cents, established a two-zone transfer rate of 10 cents, realigned the zone boundaries extensively, established zone fare increments of 20 cents, added a surcharge of 25 cents upon each express bus fare, eliminated all multi-trip permits and other passes, required all fares to be in cash and ordered various other fare provisions concerning special services (stadium buses, shuttles, commuter train, etc.) and special fare classes for senior citizens, handicapped persons and children. The order required the authority to realign the zones within two weeks and to make the changed fares effective within three weeks, by June 15, 1981. Because the order also eliminated all tickets, passes and permits on that latter date, holders of such discount documents were given the remedy of a proportionate refund.
The authority appealed that initial order, which was final in form, and ultimately also filed precautionary exceptions to it in the common pleas court. On application to this court after a stay was refused below, we granted a stay pending appeal. When the plaintiffs appealed that stay order, the Supreme Court left the stay in effect and ordered that the common pleas court dispose of the exceptions expeditiously, not later than September 1. From a dismissal of all of the authority's exceptions by the common pleas court en banc, the authority entered the second of the two appeals now before us.
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Because all agree that this case presents us with a question of first impression concerning the statutory standard which governs the common pleas court's review of the authority's action in this situation, we set forth in full Section 3(b)(9) of the Second Class County Port Authority Act, 55 P.S. § 553(b)(9), which reads:
(b) Each authority is hereby granted . . . , the following rights or powers:
(9) To fix, alter, charge and collect fares, rates, rentals and other charges for its facilities by zones or otherwise at reasonable rates to be determined exclusively by it, subject to appeal, as hereinafter provided, for the purpose of providing for the payment of the expenses of the authority, the acquisition, constructions, improvement, repair, maintenance and operation of its facilities and properties, the payment of the principal and interest on its obligations, and to comply fully with the terms and provisions of any agreements made with the purchasers or holders of any such obligations. The authority shall determine by itself exclusively, the facilities to be operated by it and the services to be available to the public. Any person questioning the reasonableness of any rate or services fixed by an authority may bring suit against the authority in the court of common pleas of the county incorporating the authority. The court of common pleas shall have exclusive jurisdiction to determine the reasonableness of fares, rates and other charges or services fixed, altered, charged or collected by an authority. The court shall make such order as to fares, rates and other charges or services as to it shall be just and proper. No suit or appeal shall act as a
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supersedeas. The court shall give priority to all such suits or appeals and no bond shall be required of any party instituting such action or appeal under the provisions of this section.
We must interpret this subsection in order to resolve the threshold issues concerning the standard of common pleas court review and the scope of relief which that court can afford.
Review Standards, Burden of Proof, and Relief
Standard of Review by Common Pleas Court
The common pleas court concluded that it was not limited to deciding if the authority had abused its discretion but held that it was empowered to review the reasonableness of the authority's rates free of any such limitation; the hearing judge announced at the outset of trial that he would not receive any testimony with respect to abuse of discretion. The final opinion concluded that "[t]he only matters before the trial court and this court [en banc] are the reasonableness of the fares exclusively determined by PAT on September 12, 1980, effective November 2, 1980, and the zone structure upon which the fare was based."
Following the sound approach that the reasonableness of fares cannot be determined separately from the reasonableness of the various expenses to be paid out of the fare revenue, as well as from federal, state and local subsidies, the court's opinion discussed numerous operational matters, such as spare buses, charter service, bus service calls, company cars, the waterways division, travel expenses, charity solicitations, standby operators and the like. However, the court's order revised only the fare structure and did not mandate any operational changes.
Recognizing that the Second Class County Port Authority Act review provision has not been construed, whereas the Municipality Authorities Act review
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provision*fn2 has been interpreted at the appellate level as limiting the common pleas court to determining if there has been an abuse of discretion,*fn3 the trial court and the parties have here correctly focused upon a comparison of the wording of those two provisions, to determine if they are sufficiently similar in substance as to warrant following the established interpretation of the latter act to construe the former one.
We must explore the same comparison. As noted above, the Second Class County Port Authority Act review provision states:
Any person questioning the reasonableness of any rate or services fixed by an authority may bring suit against the authority in the court of common pleas of the county incorporating the authority. The court of common pleas shall have exclusive jurisdiction to determine the reasonableness of fares, rates and other charges or ...