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Port Authority to study, change Valley bus routes

| Monday, March 9, 2009

Recently released route analysis give hints to how bus service may change in the Alle-Kiski Valley next year.

Reports commissioned by the Port Authority of Allegheny County say the Valley has large amounts of overlapping service, citing four express and four local routes that operate in the Route 28 corridor.

It recommends that the routes be consolidated to simplify the system but maintain service.

These route analyses preface a major, systemwide revision the agency will plan during the last eight months of the year.

Although Port Authority officials say service will not be cut this year, the Transit Development Plan to be implemented sometime next year will involve fundamental change.

"The Port Authority's service in Allegheny County is comprehensive and it goes anywhere," PAT spokeswoman Judi McNeil said. "But a map of the system looks like a plate of spaghetti -- it's so circuitous at some points as to discourage ridership.

"This is the first comprehensive look at every route that will help us move forward revising the system."

The reports, compiled by transportation consultants Nelson\Nygaard, provide detailed information on ridership, schedule, productivity and service design.

"Until we saw this study, we didn't know where people were boarding and disembarking the buses," McNeil said. "We just knew raw numbers of riders."

McNeil said that most of the authority's previous information was anecdotal. "We didn't have a solid grasp on how the routes worked."

The Port Authority spent most of last year gathering information at public meetings and having discussions with community and stakeholder groups.

Before cutting six Valley routes, among dozens of others in the system in 2007, Port Authority officials held several public hearings across the county, including one in Harmar.

Several transit system options, which Port Authority officials will advertise widely, are due in late April. The options will also be posted on the authority's Web site.

"We won't be able to get out to as many public meetings as we did in 2008," McNeil said. "We'll be doing things primarily online."

The prospective models to be presented in April will be vague, owing to the time demands designing routes.

But McNeil said the outlying areas of the county -- such as the local area -- would operate on circulator or feeder systems, where a secondary route will take riders the rest of the way from the end of a line.

One suggestion ends the AV and 1A routes at the Tarentum Park and Ride and relies on the 5A to take riders throughout Harrison and Brackenridge.

Nelson\Nygaard's reports on each route are available on the Port Authority's Transit Development Plan Web site, though McNeil warned against interpreting the route-change suggestions too literally.

"What we aren't going to do is take all of the consultant's suggestions and enact them at once," she said. "Even when we introduce the changes next year, it will be the first of four or five years of changes."

Among the consultants' suggestions for the Valley routes:

• Combine the AV, AVN, 3M and 93A routes.

• Extend the 78A to New Kensington from Oakmont, but eliminate the 1A's stops in New Kensington.

• Eliminate the single HP trip to Apollo, Oklahoma and Vandergrift.

Many of the general suggestions will survive, no matter what form the transit system takes next year.

The report mentions the 78A's 32 weekday trips that operate on 16 route variations.

The AV route includes 10 variations, making it what the report calls "one of the most complex express/flyer routes."

Ken Zapinski, senior vice president for transportation and infrastructure for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said the Port Authority was on the right track with its service revision strategy. He maintains a blog, "No Commuter Left Behind."

"They're taking a hard look at the kind of service they provide and finding a service model that best uses their resources," he said. "The system has barely changed since is started as an amalgamation of a dozen transit organizations in the 1960s. Nothing is the same as in the 1960s."

Additional Information:

Models of efficiency

The Port Authority's new system could include the following changes from the current system when it is presented in late April:

• A new route-numbering system.

• More consistent schedules.

• Fewer routes that serve the same area (local examples: AVN, AV, 3M, 93A).

• Local routes like the 5A coupled with shorter commuter routes (1A, AV).

• Longer routes to make up for cuts to some locations.

• Fewer bus stops.

• Park and Ride lots anchoring route design.

• Commuting transfer centers at the East Busway.

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