More driving farther to lots for cheaper Port Authority rides

Tom Fontaine
| Monday, May 9, 2011

Lenzner Coach Lines began transit service in March between Downtown and the North Hills to fill a void created by elimination of Port Authority of Allegheny County routes.

Six weeks later, however, the biggest void has been on some of the private company's buses.

"It's dragging a little bit," company President Charles Lenzner said.

Lenzner and the Port Authority plan to review service offerings because commuters are migrating to remaining Port Authority park-and-ride lots in the North Hills, such as the Rave Cinemas in McCandless and the Perrysville Avenue lot in Ross, rather than riding on the more expensive Lenzner coaches, officials said.

His company will take another look at its service over the summer, Lenzner said.

"We're going to re-evaluate where we're at, but we feel really confident that the numbers can come up," Lenzner said.

The week after the March 27 cutbacks took effect, the Port Authority's Ross lot routinely filled up, forcing riders to park their cars illegally along busy Route 19. Ross police said that is no longer an issue.

In McCandless, inbound buses routinely fill up before they leave the lot, forcing agency drivers to pass up would-be riders at stops on McKnight Road en route to Downtown, said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 President Patrick McMahon, who has fought unsuccessfully to get the authority to restore the routes.

Port Authority spokeswoman Heather Pharo said the agency plans to announce schedule changes in June to better meet demand and address overcrowding and pass-ups.

"We are looking at what can be done within our current resources to meet demand," Pharo said.

Ridership statistics for April were not available.

About 150 people have signed up for Lenzner's Downtown-to-Marshall service, the company said. Five daily round trips are made with buses that carry up to 57 passengers. That means the company is filling 53 percent of the available seats.

Lenzner, based in Ohio Township, estimated just 20 people are regularly using the Franklin Park-to-Downtown service. With four daily round trips, the company is filling less than one in 10 available seats.

"It's not as successful as they thought it might be. The idea that people would be willing to pay extra didn't really pan out," McMahon said.

According to a 2009 Port Authority study, its 13J Franklin Park Express carried about 200 riders a day and the 13K Marshall Express had 800 riders a day. Both routes were eliminated.

After the Port Authority cut service 15 percent in March, Lenzner began offering five daily round trips between Marshall and Downtown and four Franklin Park-to-Downtown round trips with fares from $5 to $5.75 one way. Fares for the authority's former 13J Franklin Park Express and 13K Marshall Express routes from the same locales amounted to $3.25 per trip.

Elsewhere, the Braddock nonprofit Heritage Community Initiatives has been trying to fill a void left by Port Authority cutbacks in the Mon Valley. President and CEO Michele Atkins said its WorkLinks program runs three 15-seat vans hourly between East Pittsburgh and Clairton, focusing largely on getting people to and from two hospitals, a Wal-Mart and the Community College of Allegheny County's South campus.

"The good news is we have seen a real need for the service," Atkins said. "The bad news: The need is so great that we're actually stranding riders. We just can't pick everyone up."

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