Pittsburghers for Public Transit is a grassroots union of transit riders, workers and neighbors. Together we organize for an expanded, affordable and accessible public transit system that meets all needs, with no communities left behind.
PPT’s Theory of Change
Pittsburghers for Public Transit is a transit rider and worker-led organization. We are creating a better transit system for everybody, for our city and our region, by organizing together as poor and working-class people in a multi-racial movement for transit justice.
The goals of Pittsburghers for Public Transit are:
- To win tangible policy changes to materially improve people’s lives.
- To develop a strong analysis of the broader political and economic systems that impact transit riders and workers.
- To build power and community across race and class lines by organizing for visionary and achievable solutions.
We believe that investing in public transit is essential to addressing our most pressing concerns around economic, environmental, and racial injustice. However, these investments must be thoughtful and conceived of through meaningful engagement with its primary constituents—the riders and transit operators. Process matters, because process informs outcomes, and transit planning from the top- down has long exacerbated existing inequalities. When we instead design a system that starts with transit riders and workers, we create outcomes that benefit everybody. Our lived experiences both using and running transit position us to best identify the problems and solutions that would meet our transportation needs. As an organization, PPT provides tools for us to collectively imagine and develop solutions to confront barriers, and then supports the organizing for these solutions.
We build our member base by bus stop canvassing, through surveys of transit rider needs, and through engagement with community-based organizations, food pantries, places of worship and other community gathering spaces. Our members, who meet in weekly subcommittees, discuss and define our campaign goals, our strategy, and lead the implementation of much of our campaign work. Members vote for and fill the seats on our democratically-elected Board of Directors, which sets PPT’s staff priorities, budget, and strategic plan.
Pittsburghers for Public Transit has an access-centered culture founded on disability justice principles, and PPT staff and members are committed to an ongoing process of dismantling barriers to access and participation. We use a non-hierarchical, popular educational model, in which all members are teachers and learners, and in which all learners make decisions about what we learn and how we develop our shared learning. We also work closely with academics and other technical skills experts to develop research to support community-generated solutions.
Founded in 2010, we have raised consciousness about the importance and value of public mass transit. We’ve provided education about the nature of the funding crisis, organized rallies and demonstrations, and mobilized thousands of people across Pennsylvania to exert the pressure required to pass the state transportation bill, Act 89, which finally removed the threat of more draconian cuts to public transit and further damage to our region.
Since May 2014, PPT has mobilized eight community-led campaigns to advocate for service in transit deserts–engaging over 4,000 residents to take action. Five of these campaigns were successful, and much needed bus service has been restored in Garfield, Penn Hills, Groveton, Mifflin Estates and Baldwin. These campaigns have changed the conversation about transit needs in our county and led to the adoption of Port Authority’s service guidelines, which provide a more transparent and inclusive process for decision-making and include equity as an equal factor along with efficiency and effectiveness. The campaigns we’ve supported have not only given residents access to jobs and opportunities, along with more independence, they also demonstrate the power of community-led collective action.
There are a variety of organizations working on improving transit, but we are the only group which engages directly with transit riders and workers—serving as a model for groups across the country. Bus operators, in particular, have been instrumental in our community campaigns. PPT helps residents understand their rights to access public transit and to develop and share their voices on what our transit system should look like. Public transit is OUR transit, and the people who operate, maintain, and use the system everyday should have a primary seat at the table. PPT is focused on promoting civic engagement and democracy, and we aim to connect the struggles for a strong public transit system to other struggles in our communities, including fair housing, clean air and water, workers’ and riders’ rights, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental justice.
After 10 years as a project of The Thomas Merton Center, PPT received its own 501(c)3 standing in the Fall of 2021. We’ve received support from many local foundations including the Opportunity Fund, the Three Rivers Community Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Energy Foundation and others. We’ve also received donations from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 and hundreds of individual donors and members.
Transit History and Legislation
Since 2006, the Port Authority of Allegheny County has eliminated 130 bus routes, equivalent to 30% of its service. These cuts left many communities stranded in transit deserts, where residents are forced to walk 2 or more miles to catch the bus. Now, for the first time in over a decade, Port Authority has been able to add service, but they still need more funding to adequately meet this region’s transportation needs. Last year they received over 1500 requests for 85 route changes and additions. Our service campaigns are an opportunity to demonstrate the transit needs in this region and to advocate for smart growth that reconnects communities to the region’s employment centers, as well as allowing residents to get to school, medical appointments, shopping, cultural events, and places of worship.