Port Authority to overhaul transit service

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The draft of the Port Authority's first major overhaul of transit service in more than 30 years includes fewer stops, simpler routes and schedules, faster buses, more park-n-ride lots and, in the long term, development of a countywide network of transit centers that would attract both riders and development.

The authority today is unveiling three concepts developed by a consultant for making the system more convenient, more cost-effective and less bewildering.

The plans are not yet sufficiently detailed to allow most riders to know if their stops or routes would be changed or eliminated.

"These are ideas," Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said. "We don't want to come out to the public and say this is what we're going to do."

The authority will spend the next several weeks inviting public comment at open houses, small group meetings and on the Web before further refining the plans.

Already rejected is one of the three concepts studied by the consultant, a "grid" system that would operate service to Downtown and Oakland only via busways, light-rail and the North Hills HOV lanes, with everyone else using feeder buses to get to those routes.

The firm, Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, concluded that such a system would cause a large increase in transfers, a loss of ridership and no cost savings.

For now, the consultant's preferred concepts, called Better Radial and Better Radial Plus, would continue to focus on providing most riders with direct service to Downtown and Oakland.

Some of the proposed changes:

• The number of routes would be cut from the current 187 to 123 or 133, with more frequent service on the remaining routes.

• A new Rapid Bus service would operate on 10 routes, with special vehicles making direct trips with fewer stops, priority at intersections, enhanced passenger stations and off-vehicle fare payment. The buses would operate on the current 61- and 71-series routes, 81B Lincoln, 86B Frankstown and the eastern half of the 500 Highland Park-Bellevue route.

• Direct service would be added to Pittsburgh International Airport. Service to Robinson Town Centre, currently part of the airport route, would be separate.

• Transit "emphasis corridors" would get measures like dedicated lanes, priority for buses at traffic signals and special passenger facilities and amenities. Those corridors would be Oakland to Downtown, East End, Homestead to Oakland and Brownsville Road in the South Hills.

A longer-term proposal involves the development of 13 transit centers around the county with sheltered, climate-controlled waiting areas and other amenities.

The centers would seek to capitalize on a national trend toward creating public transportation hubs that are surrounded by housing, retail and office developments within walking distance, to reduce commuters' reliance on cars.

They would be in Carnegie, Robinson, Bellevue, Ross, the Waterworks and Century III malls, East Liberty, Wilkinsburg, Monroeville, Swissvale, Homestead, East Pittsburgh and McKeesport.

The consultant also recommended as many as 13 new park-n-ride lots around the county.

Some of the consultant's proposed changes are likely to happen regardless of what concept is adopted:

• The current practice of having multiple variations on routes would be mostly eliminated.

• The number of stops, currently 16,000, will be reduced significantly.

• Route names and numbers would be revised to make them simpler. Light-rail service to Downtown would operate on three routes: a Green Line from Library via Overbrook; a Red Line from South Hills Village via Overbrook; and a Blue Line from Castle Shannon via Beechview.

• While Downtown, buses would use fewer streets and make fewer stops. Buses-only lanes could be added to Liberty Avenue or other streets to speed travel times.

The concepts grew out of more than 90 public meetings involving 1,500 attendees. The Port Authority also has received more than 900 comments on a Web site devoted to the upcoming system overhaul: tdp.portauthority.org.

Mr. Ritchie said numerous groups have requested or arranged presentations about the revamping. Open houses for public input will be held Downtown on June 3 and in Oakland on June 8, he said.

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


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