Van-tastic: State officials step up to fund job-saving transit

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Public transit isn’t good transit if it doesn’t take riders where they need to go. The Legislature and governor showed they understood that when they provided funding in the recent transportation package for two services that bridge key gaps in the local transit landscape.

Heritage Community Transportation and RideACTA serve different parts of Allegheny County, the former mostly the Mon Valley and the latter the Robinson Town Centre area. Operating outside the Port Authority Transit system, both van services were created primarily to help low-income workers with no alternatives get to their jobs.

When Congress eliminated the money to support the services, Pennsylvania officials were pressed by riders, businesses and community groups to replace the funding. That’s what the state did with part of Act 89, which will direct $1 million to Heritage and $750,000 to RideACTA in the next fiscal year, minus 15 percent which must be raised by the systems themselves.

By supporting the Heritage and RideACTA services, the transportation law is also keeping van transit rolling in two underserved corridors.

For Heritage, it means 150,000 rides per year for 3,000 registered riders whose average annual income is $23,466. One analysis showed that at least 350 jobs would have been lost if the service had ended. Passengers must register to be eligible for the free rides, which follow fixed routes and times.

At RideACTA, passengers need not register but must call ahead to schedule pickups for the free service, which operates between a bus stop near the IKEA parking lot and employers within a 1.5-mile radius. Before patronage began slipping because of cutbacks in 2013, the system was furnishing 80,000 rides a year.

Neither Heritage nor RideACTA is conventional transit, although they link passengers with conventional Port Authority service. Both are innovative responses to how to get workers with little means and no options to the workplace. In providing funds, give state officials credit for thinking outside the bus.

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