New Port Authority CEO open to tweaking Bus Rapid Transit plans for Mon Valley riders
Port Authority of Allegheny County CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman spent her first board of directors meeting Friday listening to riders worried about losing their nonstop bus route to Downtown.
"Our whole mission is to connect people to everything that makes their life happen and based on what we're hearing today, there's not a strong sense from our public we can do that," said Kelleman, who took notes next to the name of each rider as they spoke to the board. "So we definitely need to get out there and come up with some different ideas."
Most speakers at the meeting urged officials to maintain nonstop bus routes that allow riders to travel from the Mon Valley and Swissvale to Downtown without transferring.
The authority's plan to build a Bus Rapid Transit system would require those riders to transfer, which could come with an extra fare.
Routes 71 A, B and D and routes 61 A, B and C would no longer go straight to Downtown, but a different route could be amended that would, such as the P7 or the P71, said Jim Ritchie, Port Authority spokesman.
The authority started considering that option as a possible solution to the public concerns raised in the months since the authority revealed its chosen route in May .
Kelleman, who started Jan. 16, said she wants to meet with more Mon Valley riders, stating next month.
"We don't have it carved in stone... it sounds like we have the ability to do those tweaks right now," Kelleman said. "It shouldn't take us too long to say 'here's a map, does this meet what you need?'"
The details of the meetings are not yet set, said Adam Brandolph, a Port Authority spokesman.
The $223 million bus rapid transit system would connect Downtown to Oakland using buses meant to be faster because they would operate in their own lane along Fifth and Forbes avenues.
Officials plan to have the system running by 2021, but federal funding taht would cover half the cost might be nixed in President Trump's proposed infrastructure budget.
Among the public speakers urging the authority to keep the nonstop service were Debra Green, a blind woman who moved to Swissvale because of its bus access to Downtown; Glenn Walsh, who stopped driving in 1985 because of environmental concerns; and Jim Bonner, a Port Authority bus driver on the 61C route.
"We should not be breaking these routes up. They're lifelines between the poorest of the poorest areas," Bonner said. "I enjoy this job immensely, but right now I think we're in bad shape."
Paul O'Hanlon, who uses a wheelchair, said transfers can take longer than a few minutes if a bus is full, and the next one doesn't come for 40 minutes. That's even more of an issue for O'Hanlon because only two wheelchairs are allowed per bus.
"Like in East Liberty, like in the Lower Hill, taxpayer money is being used to pay for big developments that will make it harder for low-income communities and communities of color to access their basic needs" said Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit.
One speaker, James Love, said he was pro-bus rapid transit, and urged the other speakers to meet with him to look at route maps.
Several speakers also urged authority officials to use civilians instead of officers for light-rail fare enforcement when the T goes cashless.
During Kelleman's first week, she told employees to start gathering data that will help determine how much of a problem fare evasion on the T is now, as most riders already use ConnectCards instead of cash, Brandolph said. The data will help inform a decision about what kind of fare enforcement to put in place.
Eliminating cash on the light-rail system, as the bus system has done, has been delayed several times because of issues with a contractor.
Kelleman said she plans to start sending employees to take surveys on the buses to obtain rider feedback so she can hear from riders more regularly, aside from monthly board meetings.
"They should already be happy by the time they get in here (at the board meeting)," Kelleman said.
Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, email@example.com or via Twitter @tclift.