Outfit that runs Westmoreland County buses says it’s on the road to better service, fewer fines
As fines continue to mount, the company that operates buses for the Westmoreland County Transit Authority said progress has been made to ensure there are enough drivers to properly operate the commuter bus and paratransit systems.
Bill Steinmetz, general manager for National Express Transit, the Ohio-based company hired last year to operate the buses, said additional drivers have been hired and no routes had to be canceled in June and so far this month. Driver shortages prompted the authority to cancel a number of routes earlier this year.
“We’re trying to provide good, quality and reliable service. I think we are taking the right steps now,” Steinmetz said.
Almost immediately after National Express was awarded a five-year, $39.5 million contract in May 2018 to operate and maintain the authority’s bus systems, it came under criticism for not having enough drivers on staff, deficiencies with its administrative offices and maintenance failures that all led to bus routes being canceled.
The authority has leveled nearly $220,000 in fines against National Express since last July, including more than $15,000 in sanctions in May. Authority operations director Meghan Yuhouse said additional fines will be issued for June, but those are still being calculated.
Steinmetz declined to comment on the fines imposed by the authority.
As service issues continued, ridership numbers for the authority’s fixed-route system have continued to lag, by more than 14% over the past three years. The authority operates 18 weekday local and commuter routes to Pittsburgh and six routes on Saturdays.
The authority also operates a subsidized paratransit shared-ride system that provides door-to-door rides for low-income residents who use social service programs.
National Express is required to have 47 drivers on staff for the fixed-route bus system. In February, it had 38 drivers on the road. That number has increased to 45 and two more are expected to start at the end of July, Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz, a retired administrator for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, was hired by National Express in October to improve the company’s performance in Westmoreland County.
In addition to having new drivers on staff, Steinmetz said he has filled needed supervisory positions and instituted daily morning checks to ensure buses and paratransit vehicles are running on time. He blamed previous maintenance issues on an aging bus fleet.
That fleet of 41 vehicles has been updated this year; 11 new, natural gas-fueled buses were purchased and have been put into service.
Authority officials concede there have been improvements but said National Express still has work to do.
“They are not canceling routes, but there are still on-time performance issues. We’re still not at an acceptable level of service,” Authority Executive Director Alan Blahovec said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .