$5 Port Authority ConnectCard fee runs into opposition
June 30, 2015 11:21 PM
Port Authority of Allegheny County
"I not only oppose the $5 ConnectCard fee, I believe we should be getting a discount for using them," said Edward Wagner of Brighton Heights.
By Jon Schmitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Port Authority’s plan to charge a one-time fee of up to $5 for ConnectCards, the smartcards used by riders to pay their fares electronically, got less than rave reviews at a public hearing Tuesday.
But it seemed unlikely that negative comments from riders would dissuade the authority board from approving the fee. The effective date already has been set for Aug. 1, and the budget adopted by the board for the coming fiscal year assumes a small amount of revenue coming in from the fee.
“No decision has been made,” board chairman Robert Hurley said after hearing from several riders who thought the fee would be counterproductive. The full board is scheduled to vote July 24.
About 350,000 ConnectCards have been issued for free since the authority launched the system in 2012, and those riders won’t be charged. Anyone who gets a ConnectCard this month also will avoid the fee, which would be charged for new and replacement cards starting next month. Cards can be obtained at the authority’s Downtown Service Center on Smithfield Street and at most Giant Eagle supermarkets.
Once a fee is in place, the cards will be available for purchase at vending machines at major stops and stations on bus and rail routes, authority CEO Ellen McLean said.
If a card needs to be replaced because it malfunctions, the rider won’t be charged for the new card, authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
Several speakers at Tuesday’s hearing noted that the cards, which the rider taps at the farebox, are benefiting riders by speeding up boarding and alighting and saving the authority money by reducing its cash handling expenses.
“Any charge for new ConnectCards, particularly a charge as exorbitant as $5, would be a great disincentive to persuading new and occasional riders to pay via ConnectCard,” said Glenn Walsh of Mt. Lebanon, a longtime transit activist.
“I not only oppose the $5 ConnectCard fee, I believe we should be getting a discount for using them,” said Edward Wagner of Brighton Heights. That is an idea that the authority has under consideration as it reviews all of its fare policies.
Earl Pearson of Munhall said if a fee is charged, it should be returned as cash value on the rider’s card if the rider registers it with the agency. Such an incentive is in place in Chicago, he said.
Linda Warman of Duquesne, who has used a card since February 2014, said she researched the issue and learned that ConnectCards cost about $3 to produce. “So where’s the extra $2 going to go? I think it’s a travesty to charge anyone $5 to replace these,” she said.
Molly Nichols of Pittsburghers for Public Transit urged the authority to seek a sponsorship to cover the cost, and if a fee is imposed, to waive it for lower-income residents and people with disabilities.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868 or @pgtraffic on Twitter.
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