Former WorkLink bus service revives as Heritage Community Transportation
Working commuters in 11 transit-poor communities in the Mon and Turtle Creek valleys hopped aboard expanded bus service on Monday.
Braddock-based nonprofit Heritage Community Initiatives revived and expanded its former WorkLink bus service to help people get to work, thanks to dedicated state funding in the recent transportation bill, officials said.
Monday was the first day of service for the rebranded Heritage Community Transportation, a fixed-route service using small buses to shuttle commuters from neighborhoods without transit access to their jobs or to the nearest transfer to public transit, said Paula McWilliams, Heritage president and CEO. Heritage planned an official launch but postponed the event until March 13 because of the weather.
Heritage expanded its WorkLink coverage from McKeesport and Port Vue to include East Pittsburgh, White Oak, Turtle Creek, Pitcairn, North Versailles, Wall, Wilmerding, Liberty and Monroeville. It discontinued the parts of its routes in Clairton because the Port Authority of Allegheny County restored bus service there last fall.
“We had to cut our routes over the summer when federal funding ran out,” McWilliams said. “Our first goal is to restore service to all those riders to bring them back into the fold.”
“I'm planning to try it out,” said Bill Depner of McKeesport as he waited for a bus in the park-and-ride section of the transportation center. Depner used the short-term trips WorkLink provided from his neighborhood up the hill from downtown McKeesport. Longer-term trips are part of the new Heritage service.
“I was probably one of the most frequent riders,” Depner said. “I want to see if I can use it for the longer runs.”
The service was funded by the federal Job Access Reverse Commute program, then limped through month by month, running on reserves and short-term funding from PennDOT. The $2.3 billion state transportation bill passed late last year included dedicated funding to replace the Job Access Reverse Commute program money for small transit services such as WorkLink, though that service's exact share in the new fiscal year will depend on factors such as ridership and efficiency, said Sarah Morgan, Heritage Community Initiatives' transportation director.
Before the end of the Job Access Reverse Commute program, Heritage Community Initiatives's transportation budget was about $1 million a year, Morgan said.
In communities that are largely poor and lack service from the Port Authority, Heritage runs three buses on two fixed routes — one from Liberty and Port Vue to Monroeville, and the other from East Pittsburgh to Monroeville — from about 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The expanded service and connections to Port Authority routes offer access to employers such as UPMC East, Forbes Regional and the Community College of Allegheny County, Morgan said.
McWilliams declined to predict how many people will sign up now that the free, membership-based service has expanded, but he noted that it managed to attract almost 4,000 regular riders even when service was limited and its future uncertain.
“People walked an average of three miles to our stops before,” she said. “These are folks who are very diligent and dedicated, so anything we can do to help get them to work is an honor.”
Trib Total Media reporter Patrick Cloonan contributed to this report. Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.