Port Authority: No more free buses, zones, cash on trains
Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to eliminate free bus rides in Downtown, charge for ConnectCards and make all riders pay at the start of their trips as part of sweeping changes approved Friday by the transit agency.
The changes, scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, will eliminate the multiple fare zones that exist now and establish a single zone countywide.
In the second half of next year, Port Authority's T light-rail system will go cashless, requiring riders to have a ConnectCard or purchase tickets to ride before they board a train.
Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean said the changes “were driven by thousands of customer requests for a simpler, easier-to-use transit system. ... If it's easier, it will encourage more people to ride.”
When Port Authority moves to a single zone for bus and T trips countywide, fares for ConnectCard holders will be $2.50 per trip. Cash-paying riders will pay an extra 25 cents. The T will remain free within Downtown and the North Shore.
Currently, two-zone trips cost $3.75.
To discourage T riders from trying to dodge fares by boarding trains in the North Shore and Downtown without paying and then taking outbound trips beyond the free-fare zone to stops in Station Square and the South Hills, Port Authority police will randomly check riders' cards or tickets with handheld validators to make sure they paid.
Those who dodge fares could be cited and fined about $150, Port Authority said.
Also under the fare changes, transfers for ConnectCard holders will cost $1. Cash-paying customers will be required to pay another $2.75.
In what figures to present the steepest learning curve, all bus riders will be required to board in the front of buses and pay there by either tapping their ConnectCards or ConnecTix over an electronic card reader or depositing cash. Riders will get off buses using the middle doors.
McLean said Port Authority hopes the change will boost ConnectCard usage, which averages about 86 percent now. Cards make boarding faster — tapping a card over an electronic reader can take a second or two, while it takes riders 15 seconds, on average, to pay cash, she said.
After Jan. 1, it will cost $1 to obtain a ConnectCard. The cards are free now. Port Authority originally proposed a $3 fee to get a card.
McLean said the changes will cost Port Authority an estimated $4.4 million a fiscal year, reflecting decreased revenue from switching to a single zone. Port Authority said an anticipated increase in ridership and reduced fare evasion could offset some of those losses.
Molly Nichols, a community organizer with Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said she “wholeheartedly supports reducing the Zone 2 fare. ... We regularly talk to riders in (more outlying suburban areas in) Zone 2 who have trouble paying the current high fares. And folks who live in the city have trouble paying to get to job centers in Zone 2.”
But Nichols said her group opposes the surcharges for cash-paying customers, along with the high cost of transferring for cash-paying customers.
Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.