Port Authority fare hikes, overhaul of service due in new year

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Now that the Port Authority board has given final approval to higher fares and a total overhaul of service, riders will begin to see big changes early next year.

The first comes Jan. 1, when the fare increase takes effect. The $2 base fare won't change, but Zone 2 riders and most users of weekly, monthly and annual passes will pay more.

Riders who buy monthly passes will no longer get much of a discount from the cash fare. A Zone 1 pass will cost $80, or the equivalent of four work weeks of round trips at the cash price. A Zone 2 monthly pass will be $105, a $5 savings over 40 trips at the $2.75 cash fare.

The service changes, affecting every route, will start to take effect in March. They will be phased in over two years, with each phase of implementation focused on a specific geographic area.

CEO Steve Bland said the first areas to see changes haven't been determined yet.

Generally, riders will see these changes, all aimed at making service simpler and more cost-effective:

• New route numbers or names. Current routes have numbers and letters, like 41B. Most of them will just be numbered under the new system.

• Fewer variations. This might prove the most controversial element of the plan when buses stop meandering through neighborhoods and instead adhere to singular routings along main arteries.

The 46G Elizabeth route currently has 36 different routings. The new route will have two. The 41B Bower Hill has 17 different routings; those will be reduced to two.

On some routes, unproductive segments will be dropped. For instance, the 1F Millvale, which currently makes about 10 trips along Anderson and Siebert roads to North Hills Village, will terminate at the Millvale Loop.

• Fewer stops. Port Authority said its riders want faster service. One way to do that is to stop less. On most routes in densely populated areas, stops will be at least 700 feet (about one-eighth mile) apart. Exceptions will be made in places where walking conditions are dangerous or "there are significant topographical challenges," according to the plan.

• More frequent trips on heavily traveled routes.

• Service that is more evenly spaced. The authority hopes to eliminate situations where no bus arrives for a prolonged period and then several show up almost bumper to bumper.

• Longer or shorter hours of service. Routes with higher ridership in the early morning and late at night will get expanded hours; others with few riders will start later and end earlier.

• Rapid Bus service. This service, popular in other cities, features fewer stops -- no closer than 900 feet apart -- and other measures designed to mimic express subway service, like off-board fare collection and priority at traffic signals.

Rapid Bus service is planned between Downtown and Wilkinsburg, Braddock, McKeesport, Homestead, Highland Park, East Liberty, Homewood and Pittsburgh International Airport.

The authority spent two years developing the service overhaul plan and gathered input at more than 150 public meetings and from more than 4,000 comments submitted by riders.

Route-by-route descriptions of the forthcoming changes, including maps, are posted on the authority's Web site, tdp.portauthority.org. The location of stops has not yet been finalized.

Authority officials said it was the biggest service revision in the agency's 50-year history.

"The overwhelming majority of our customers will see significant improvements in their service," authority board member Guy Mattola said before a unanimous vote approving the plan. "This overhaul is long overdue."

Correction/Clarification: (Published Oct. 28, 2009) The last name of Port Authority board member Guy Mattola was misspelled in this story as originally published Oct. 24, 2009 about transit schedules and fares.

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


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