Outfit that runs Westmoreland County buses says it’s on the road to better service, fewer fines | TribLIVE.com

Outfit that runs Westmoreland County buses says it’s on the road to better service, fewer fines

Rich Cholodofsky
Riders exit a Westmoreland County Transit bus at the North Huntingdon park-and-ride in this file photo.

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 .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.