Port Authority delays overhaul of bus routes

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The Port Authority has stretched out its plan to overhaul its 187 bus routes to allow more time for public comment.

Where the agency had once hoped to have board approval for the revamped system by May, it now projects a vote in September.

Sometime next month, the authority will begin a series of hearings on three options for major redesign of its system, which dates back nearly a half-century. An earlier plan to have one month of public comment has been lengthened to allow 21/2 months of public input.

"This is one of the biggest changes Pittsburgh has seen since the Port Authority was founded," said Peter Behrman, authority assistant general manager of service planning and development.

The authority has a Web site, tdp.portauthority.org, with details of the restructuring plan and five-page analyses of each route, including ridership statistics and preliminary recommendations by a consultant.

After public comment, the agency will develop a final plan for board approval. While some changes might be made this year and early next year, "the big change will come in September 2010," Mr. Behrman said.

Along with new routes, Port Authority will convert to a new automated fare collection system using "smart card" technology. The authority's planning and development committee yesterday approved a $33 million contract with Scheidt Bachmann USA Inc.

Federal funding will pay 80 percent of the cost and the state 16.7 percent. Allegheny County Council is expected to vote April 7 on the county's share, about $1.1 million.

In a smart card system, regular riders carry a permanent plastic card that is waved near a reader installed at the entry to buses or stations. The fare is automatically deducted from the card.

The authority expects the technology to increase revenue by making fare collection more accurate and cutting down on fare evasion and the expense of counting cash and change.

The smart card contract has been structured to allow smaller regional transit systems in surrounding counties to opt in, and authority CEO Steve Bland said he expects many will.

Jon Schmitz can be reached at jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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