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Inclines remain commuters' secret

| Monday, Aug. 23, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

They're about 130 years old, and they'll still get people to Downtown faster than a car during a busy weekday.

The Monongahela and Duquesne inclines on Mt. Washington have become sort of a commuter secret. Most locals know about the inclines, but mostly in the tourist sense. But as anyone who takes the inclines to work knows, they're a better deal than driving -- $1.75 each way includes a bus into the Triangle at a time when Downtown parking easily tops $10 per day.

"You can't beat it," said Ann Brown, 46, of Mt. Washington. She was riding alone in the open room of a Duquesne Incline cable car descending to West Carson Street.

She explained the routine the regulars know: Ride down from Grandview Avenue -- it takes less time than driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnels at midnight -- then get out and watch a periscope-style mirror for frequent inbound buses. Push a button to flag one down. Within two minutes, Brown was across a bridge and Downtown.

Last year, the Duquesne Incline -- built in 1877 -- moved more than 350,000 riders. But 75 percent were tourists, said Ruth Miller, who with her husband David created a nonprofit group to keep the incline running after it closed in 1963.

"That's why it got saved," Miller said. "It's a very important facility for a very few people."

Some people riding are from Duquesne Heights, the neighborhood at the top of the Duquesne Incline. But Miller said people from Mt. Lebanon and other suburbs have been parking up there and commuting via incline for decades.

It always was a sociable ride, Miller said. The well-worn wooden benches line the walls of the car, so everyone has to look at each other. Sooner or later, someone is likely to start a conversation.

"When you would go to work in the morning, you found out everything you needed to know," she said. "Who died, whose house burned down. And always, there was something to report."

The Monongahela Incline cars aren't as much a conversation salon, with three back-to-back booths. But the cars carried about 1 million riders last year, said Judi McNeil, a spokeswoman for Port Authority, which runs that 134-year-old incline. The incline drops riders off at Station Square from Mt. Washington.

The Mon Incline is not in danger of getting shuttered by the cash-strapped Port Authority. The Duquesne Incline is thriving financially, thanks to the authority's fare increase, Miller said.

"It's something we have to keep," McNeil said. "You'd really be cutting a lot of people off if you closed the incline." Additional Information:

Wanna Ride?

The Duquesne and Monongahela inclines run from 5:30 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Fare is $1.75 per ride. For more information, log on to www.portauthority.org.

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