Bus riders pres­sure Port Au­thor­ity to equal­ize fare struc­ture.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By Ed Blaz­ina

Port Au­thor­ity bus riders who ob­ject to higher fares for cash cus­tomers chanted a dif­fer­ent hol­i­day mes­sage Fri­day.

Sue Scan­lon, a Port Au­thor­ity bus driver for 18 years, said she sees it all too of­ten: fe­male riders, of­ten sin­gle moth­ers, pay­ing cash to ride the bus mul­ti­ple times to drop chil­dren off at day care, then go­ing to work and re­peat­ing the trip at the end of the day.

For cash cus­tomers, that’s $11 in fares com­pared with $7 for cus­tomers who can af­ford the up­front fee to use a pre­paid Con­nec­tCard. That’s why she spoke out Fri­day in fa­vor of equal­iz­ing fares for cash cus­tomers at a Down­town rally aimed at the Port Au­thor­ity Board. Pitts­burghers for Pub­lic Tran­sit and Just Har­vest or­ga­nized the protest and pre­sented pe­ti­tions with about 2,500 sig­na­tures in sup­port of chang­ing the fare struc­ture to the board.

Au­thor­ity CEO Katharine Ea­gan Kelle­man said she

un­der­stands the con­cerns of riders who say that even if low-in­come pas­sen­gers could man­age the up­front costs, the agency doesn’t have Con­nec­tCard ven­dors in poor neigh­bor­hoods. The agency is work­ing on solutions, such as a mo­bile app and Con­nec­tCard up­grades to grant dis­counts for reg­u­lar riders af­ter they pay the equiv­a­lent of a weekly or monthly pass, she said. She met this week with the Con­nec­tCard provider to see if the com­pany can ad­just the pro­gram to grant dis­counts af­ter riders reach monthly pass min­i­mums.

The au­thor­ity changed its fare sys­tem two years ago, be­fore Ms. Kelle­man was hired in Jan­uary, to charge a flat $2.50 fare for Con­nec­tCard users and $2.75 for cash cus­tomers in­stead of a tiered sys­tem based on dis­tance trav­eled. Those changes also set cash trans­fers at $1 for Con­nec­tCard users but re­quires cash cus­tomers to pay a full sec­ond fare if they need a sec­ond ride to reach their des­ti­na­tion.

The goal was to en­cour­age riders to use Con­nec­tCards, but it cre­ated an un­in­tended con­se­quence for low-in­come, cash cus­tomers who pay higher fares, ad­vo­cates say.

Ms. Kelle­man called the com­ments from 18 riders at the board meet­ing “very good feed­back” but con­ceded the au­thor­ity prob­a­bly won’t make changes quickly enough for those groups.

“We are cer­tainly look­ing at ways to get as many peo­ple rid­ing our sys­tem as pos­si­ble,” Ms. Kelle­man said. “We’re all in on any­thing that makes our sys­tem more eq­ui­table for ev­ery­body.”

The agency is re­view­ing pro­pos­als from mo­bile app providers and may have a pro­to­type to test next sum­mer. It also plans to hire a fare con­sul­tant to re­view its en­tire sys­tem and rec­om­mend changes and in the in­terim is look­ing at ways to make Con­nec­tCards avail­able in more neigh­bor­hoods, Ms. Kelle­man said.

The is­sue could cre­ate a fi­nan­cial dilemma for the au­thor­ity. Ms. Kelle­man said about 2 per­cent of riders use trans­fers, gen­er­at­ing revenue of just un­der $2 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

“It’s un­der $2 mil­lion at this point, but $2 mil­lion is still $2 mil­lion,” she said.

At the rally out­side the T sta­tion on Wood Street, sev­eral dozen riders car­ried signs with slo­gans such as “Buses are our life­line,” “Same fares for ev­ery­one” and “Tran­sit shouldn’t break our bank.” They also re­peated chants such as, “One trip, two trips, three trips four, why are poor peo­ple pay­ing more?”

He­len Ger­hardt, an or­ga­nizer for Just Har­vest, said she knows home health care work­ers who travel through­out the county by bus and work 60 hours a week, but they have to pay higher cash bus fares and don’t have money for healthy food.

“It’s poor peo­ple who are bear­ing the brunt of [higher cash fees],” she said.

That’s a way of life for Teireik Wil­liams, a South Oak­land res­i­dent who works at Carnegie Mellon Univer­sity’s Cre­ate Lab. Be­cause his neigh­bor­hood has no di­rect bus ser­vice, he has to walk about a mile to catch a bus, then al­most al­ways pays a sec­ond full cash fare to trans­fer to a sec­ond bus to reach his des­ti­na­tion.

“I’m not sure what busi­ness model pun­ishes poor peo­ple,” he said.

Dar­rell Sapp/Post-Gazette

Pro­test­ers ad­vo­cate “fair fares” in a demon­stra­tion Fri­day against the Port Au­thor­ity's fare struc­ture at Sixth Av­enue and Wood Street, Down­town.

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