PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The free ride on the T from Downtown to the North Shore is in jeopardy.

Port Authority officials said they are working to make sure rides on the North Shore Connector continue to be free.

The Steelers said they have no current plans to renew their sponsorship, which has helped keep the trips free of charge to this point.

This morning, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald weighed in on the pending expiration of the free rides and an apparent dispute between the Steelers and the Port Authority over whether the team will continue their contributions.

“I don’t want to get into negotiations that occur privately and we’re going to continue that way, but what I can say in general is three years ago, when the North Shore Connector opened up, there was a lot of controversy over it. There were a lot of criticisms of it. I think probably some of the sponsors, some of the corporate sponsors, maybe didn’t want to put their name on something that was controversial. Well, three years later, that’s all gone away. It has been wildly successful. People use it not just for the sporting events, but for a myriad of reasons. Ridership is way, way up,” Fitzgerald said.

The Steelers released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying they were prepared to extend the sponsorship, but were turned down by the Port Authority.

“In December 2014, the Steelers advised the Port Authority that we were exercising the option to extend the agreement for two additional years. To our surprise, the Port Authority sent a reply letter stating they did not want to extend our agreement. We were advised the Port Authority had other options for sponsorship of the Allegheny Station,” the statement said. “At this time, the Steelers are no longer pursuing a sponsorship agreement with the Port Authority.”

While that aspect of the negotiations gets sorted out, Fitzgerald is confident that there are other interested parties in picking up the bill.

“When it was sold, the sponsorships were sold. I think they were probably sold at a low cost to just try to get it up and running. I think since that has occurred, there are other interested parties who would probably be much more willing to pay more money to be part of that sponsorship, the free fare zone, the advertising and all the other things that will come into play there. So, I think this will work itself out and I’m pretty confident that the Port Authority is working with interested stakeholders, including the sports teams, which is certainly in their interest to continue the free fare zone.”

While there appears to be some interest from other parties, would it be enough to fill the void should the Steelers no longer contribute?

“If I read the story this morning [in the Tribune Review], I think there’s at least one other interested person who wants to be part of that, which they certainly benefit in the business that they’re in and again, because of all the development that is occurring on the North Shore and is going to continue to develop over the next few years. You see the cranes in the air and the buildings coming up out of the ground. I think there’s going to continue to be more demand, and including in downtown Pittsburgh – the free fare zones here and I’d love to see it expand over into Station Square to capture the whole downtown business district and put that into place,” Fitzgerald said.

“So, I think the Port Authority is moving in that positive direction and again, a lot of those negotiations are happening privately and at this point, I’d like to keep it that way.”

The original agreement expires in five weeks.

Stay With KDKA.com For More Details

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter