Port Authority overhaul could improve Oakland service

By Staff Report

A proposed Port Authority overhaul would eliminate and consolidate some bus routes, but the… A proposed Port Authority overhaul would eliminate and consolidate some bus routes, but the changes could improve the transits of Oakland residents.

The proposal, part of the Authority’s Transit Development Plan, calls for the elimination of 15 routes and the merging or renaming of an additional 58.

“People are concerned that one day they’re going to wake up and their route will be gone,” Jim Ritchie, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said.

But, because Oakland is densely populated, he said, Pitt students living on or near campus wouldn’t experience too many of the cuts.

The Authority’s plan calls for nine new rapid routes, all of which will run through Oakland. These buses will run every three to four minutes during rush hour, every eight to 10 minutes during non-rush hour and every 15 minutes in the evening.

“You pretty much won’t need a schedule,” Ritchie said. “Even if you miss a bus, you know another is coming in three to four minutes.”

Ritchie said the buses will run faster, because they won’t stop at almost every corner, as many buses currently do.

Eight routes — the 61A through 61D and 71A through 71D — will continue to run through Oakland and Downtown.

The 28X, which currently runs through Oakland and Downtown before going to the airport, will no longer stop at Robinson Town Centre. The 28X buses will run every three to four minutes and will provide racks for suitcases and other baggage, Ritchie said.

One of the largest changes to the Oakland service is the elimination of the 59U, which goes to the Waterfront.

But, three routes will compensate for the loss of the 59U, often voted the Best of the Port Authority in The Pitt News.

The current 61D will be renamed the R4 — a sign that it’s a “rapid” bus — and will run between Oakland and Homestead at 15-minute intervals during rush hour and 30-minute intervals during non-rush hours from 5 a.m. one day to 1 a.m. the next.

An R3 will run between McKeesport and Oakland, and a new 75 Ellsworth will run between East Liberty and the Southside Works through Shadyside and Oakland. It will run between 5 a.m. and 12:30 a.m.

Routes that use busways — roads on which only buses, high-occupancy vehicle lanes and light rail services can travel — would receive a color and number according to their destination. A P1, P2 or P3, for example, would run along an eastern busway.

“Rapid” buses will be assigned an R and a number.

The plan calls for the Port Authority to drop the letters on bus routes “wherever possible.” The 54C, for example, could become the 54 South Side.

The Authority will add six new routes, one of which will run from Lawrenceville to Oakland.

Route and service changes will begin this March.

The Port Authority plans to add smart cards and fare boxes by “this time next year,” Ritchie said. New fare collection boxes will act more like vending machines, recognizing the difference between different bills and coins.

Pitt students will be among the first people to use Port Authority smart cards, which will function “like an EZ Pass for public transportation.” Users will load money onto their smart cards and then flash them in front of the fare boxes before they board buses.

Ritchie said Pitt students will probably be able to use their IDs as smart cards.

He said the Port Authority will use data from smart cards to track which routes are the most common with the goal of improving service in the long term.

The Authority also said it hopes to add transportation hubs where two routes meet, hopefully sometime within the next three to five years.

“We should have done this a long time ago,” Ritchie said.

The announcement of these changes comes almost three years after the state Transportation and Funding Reform Commission recommended the Authority audit its system, which has has been virtually the same since its inception in 1964. Gov. Ed Rendell created the commission in July 2005 to study ways to improve the state’s transportation system.

The Port Authority will hold a public hearing on its plans from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, 112 Washington Place, Downtown. People who want to testify at the hearing are encouraged to pre-register by calling 412-566-5437.

The Authority’s board of directors plans to vote on the proposal by the end of October.