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Westmoreland Transit riders weigh in on potential route changes

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, 4:57 p.m.
Norene Price of Hempfield, center in a red sweater, shares her ideas on how to improve the Westmoreland County Transit Authority bus service during a public information session Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Greensburg.
Rich Cholodofsky
Norene Price of Hempfield, center in a red sweater, shares her ideas on how to improve the Westmoreland County Transit Authority bus service during a public information session Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Greensburg.
Dozens of passengers attended public input sessions Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Greensburg to assess service offered by the Westmoreland County Transit Authority and suggest potential changes to the bus system.
Rich Cholodofsky
Dozens of passengers attended public input sessions Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Greensburg to assess service offered by the Westmoreland County Transit Authority and suggest potential changes to the bus system.

Norene Price had $10 to spend.

She carefully considered her options and eventually deposited $1 notes each for several suggested bus routes that the Westmoreland County Transit Authority could offer riders under a revised service being studied by local planners.

“We need more shared-ride services. I'd like to go more, and I feel the fares are a little high,” said Price, who lives in Hempfield.

She was among dozens of riders who attended two public input sessions Wednesday at the authority's transit center in Greensburg. The sessions gauged public interest in potential changes to the bus system that has experienced a 10 percent drop in passengers over the past three years.

The Southwest Pennsylvania Commission is conducting the $90,000 study. It will present its findings next month to the authority's board of directors, who will then consider changing the fixed-route system that has undergone no major alterations in about 15 years.

Planners also will make suggested changes to the paratransit and shared-ride programs that the authority took over several years ago, which provide subsidized door-to-door rides to seniors and disabled passengers.

Participants at Wednesday's sessions were given $10 in play money and were asked to choose how best they could spend the cash. They were presented with 31 options, including travel to Pittsburgh, Indiana, Washington and Cranberry as well as potential evening and weekend routes throughout Westmoreland County. Trips also included routes to local colleges, shopping centers, through local communities and to medical services and hospitals.

“We want to know what are the priorities. The goal is to see where people will spend their money. We're asking where people are originating (rides) from and where they live and where they would like to go that they can't get to on transit now,” said Andrew Baston, a transportation planner with Michael Baker International, which is conducting the study for the SPC and authority.

The fixed-route service has about two dozen routes, including the system's most-used buses that run daily routes into Pittsburgh through Murrysville and North Huntingdon.

Jim Kilpatrick of Jeannette said he rides the bus from his home to Greensburg about four or five times a week to shop.

“There are too many pointless stops. I'm hoping any changes will be better for the community,” Kilpatrick said.

Molly Stiles, the director of marketing at Bethlen Communities, a senior and retirement center in Ligonier, said residents at the facility wanted more service throughout the region, including under-serviced areas such as New Florence and Seward.

“We think there is a need to have more service in outlying areas so more consumers can use the system. Some now have to drive to a bus stop,” Stiles said.

Alan Blahovec, the authority's executive director, said any service changes won't be based solely on the numbers, meaning some lesser-used routes could continue to operate.

“We know we have some routes with lower numbers, but those people really need it,” Blahovec said.

In addition to the public sessions Wednesday, riders can participate in an online survey to assess potential changes at westmorelandtdp.metroquest.com through Nov. 3.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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