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April 1, 2010

Major bus route changes begin April 4

bus“Change is coming. Get on board” is the mantra of the Port Authority of Allegheny County as it gets ready to implement the largest bus service changes in 50 years beginning April 4.

Port Authority and Pitt officials gathered at Alumni Hall last week to present the route and other service changes, which will be implemented in phases over the next two years, in a town hall-style discussion sponsored by the Staff Association Council.

Wendy Stern, assistant general manager of the transit authority, gave an overview of the rationale behind the changes, and Fred Mergner, assistant manager of scheduling, discussed specific route changes for Oakland’s more than 30 daily routes. (See related story this issue.)

With all the changes to the county’s demographics in the past 50 years, Stern said, the time for a major overhaul of services had arrived. As additional incentive to change, Act 44 legislation passed two years ago dictates how much state funding the Port Authority receives based on a formula that rewards efficiency and penalizes inefficiency, she noted.

The first changes start April 4, with 60 routes affected system-wide. The next phase of route changes will be implemented in June, with others planned for September. The new transit plan is expected to be implemented fully by March 2012.

Stern said the goal is to provide more service with fewer routes. “Right now we have 186 routes and we’re proposing to reduce that to 122 routes, a 35 percent decrease,” Stern said. “However, the number of weekday bus trips will be increased by 6 percent (from 7,373 to 7,805) and the average number of trips per route will be increased by 60 percent (from 40 to 64 trips per route on average).”

That is expected to provide riders with greater schedule flexibility, make the system less complicated and reduce service duplication, she said. “We are reallocating our resources away from unproductive and underproductive routes to those where the demand is the highest,” Stern said.

Some of the other features of the transit plan that will be implemented by 2012 include:

• Rapid buses. Rapid buses are proposed for nine routes: the 61-series routes, the 71-series routes and the 28X Airport Flyer. Implementation of the rapid buses is planned for fall-winter 2011.

Some of the features of rapid buses, Stern said, include more frequent service; fewer stops, so travel time is quicker; a simple route structure; enhanced stations with passenger amenities, such as bike racks and more parking, and real-time passenger information based on a GPS tracking system.

The Port Authority is working with the city to grant the rapid buses priority over automobiles on certain streets, she added.

“The other nice thing about the rapid bus concept is that it is scalable over time, as resources became available,” Stern said. “Although we don’t have all the resources now to implement all the features I just listed, over time we expect to be able to achieve all of that.”

• Bus stop consolidation. Stern said the Port Authority currently operates 186 routes with more than 16,000 bus stops system-wide. Industry best practices suggest that many of the stops are spaced too close together for efficiency, so the transit company will be eliminating some and shifting others on many routes, she said. New signs will be posted at stops as the routes are adjusted.

In most cases, the additional distances that passengers will have to walk will be one or two blocks, Stern said.

• A new route identification system. For example, the East Busway vehicles will be purple; all East Busway routes will have a “P” prefix. A G (for green) prefix will identify the West Busway; an R prefix will identify rapid bus routes; an L will designate limited stop routes.

A and B suffixes will be used in limited circumstances for routes that have branches at their outer ends, for example, the 77A and 77B. Numbers only will be used for all other routes.

• Expansion of parking. “We recognize we have a critical shortage of parking around the region,” Stern said. The Port Authority plans to expand parking at 15 high-priority locations around the county, although no timetable is set due to the current lack of funding. Changes for each phase will include plenty of advance public notice, she added.

“We know that not everybody will be thrilled by these changes,” Stern said. But for nearly 90 percent of riders, the basic routes will remain the same. About 10 percent will lose their current route but have reasonable alternatives, and less than one-half percent of riders will have their service eliminated, she said.

Bill Seman, director of treasury operations for the Port Authority, discussed the new fare box system, which will read Pitt’s smartcard IDs system-wide once the fare boxes have been installed in Port Authority vehicles, a project slated for completion this fall.

Seman said the card must be within about 2 inches of the fare box scanner to register. The rider will hear one sound if the card has been accepted as valid and a different sound should the card be rejected, he said.

The only information conveyed to the Port Authority via Pitt’s smartcards is the unique number embedded in the card that alerts the transit company’s scanners of the card’s validity.

No personal data are forwarded, said Jessica Larson of Panther Central.

Kevin Sheehy, director of Parking, Transportation and Services, added that Pitt has the capability of differentiating whether the card holder is a student, staff member or faculty member, but that information is not shared with the Port Authority.


Printed schedules for all bus routes now are available. Riders also can access information on any bus route at

The site also details the changes, if any, on every route and includes both the current bus designation and its new designation, where applicable.

The Port Authority also has added customer service staff, who can be reached at 412/442-2000.

—Peter Hart

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