Process Improvements for Bus Stop Consolidation

What is “Bus Stop Consolidation”?

Near the beginning of September, the Port Authority unrolled a new Bus Stop Consolidation program. Their website reads;

Your bus stop is the welcome mat to our service. For a better transit experience, we plan to reduce the number of bus stops throughout our system to improve on-time performance while ensuring that you can safely and comfortably access our service.

Allegheny County has a lot of bus stops, often located very close together. We’re not against the practice of bus stop consolidation (because it can make buses faster), but we do know that eliminating stops generally makes it harder for riders to access transit. For some, it creates a minor inconvenience that is outweighed by the faster ride. For riders with limited mobility, however, it can create an insurmountable obstacle. So it’s important that our public agency is paying attention to the system’s most vulnerable users and their needs, so that we’re not improving efficiency at their expense.

How has the program scored so far?

Bus stops are critical points of entry into the transportation system that many riders’ lives depend on. The process should reflect the seriousness of what is at stake and should do all it can to ensure that the most vulnerable riders are not being left behind by stop removal.

For starters, riders shouldn’t have to beg to be heard about bus stop removals that will create hardship for vulnerable communities. (PG article: North Side shelter objects to Port Authority eliminating bus stop at its front door), nor should be worried that calling for safe bus stops will result in our bus stops being eliminated (O’Hara officials unhappy about bus stop elimination near RIDC Park). Eliminating these bus stops will not simply be minor inconveniences. These decisions will have catastrophic impacts on access to food, housing and employment.

It should go without saying that Pittsburgh and the surrounding municipalities need to invest in safe sidewalks, bus stop amenities, and crosswalks, and that would go a long way to ensuring that our transit system is accessible for all. However, it’s also important that Port Authority does not use those lack of investments as a reason to penalize their riders in the short term. Privileging stops with existing amenities like good sidewalks and bus shelters creates inequitable outcomes, because good sidewalks are more prevalent in wealthier communities, and many bus shelters have historically been placed in places with high advertising visibility and marketing value.

Instead, with a clear public process and opportunities for riders and operators to give input throughout, PAAC will create an altogether more equitable and effective outcome. And because we can walk and chew gum, members of the public can also take the opportunity to call on their City or municipality to ensure that we have safe and supportive streets and sidewalks around all our bus stops to encourage transit usage.

How to improve the process

We want to give PAAC a shout-out for having a phased approach to bus stop consolidation, which gives space to hear from riders and make improvements. We’re also glad that Port Authority says they’re looking to TransitCenter’s Bus Stop Balancing Report (even if they didn’t follow it, exactly). Finally, we see that PAAC listened to some feedback in its first round and made modifications on the proposed bus stop removals planned for the 51 and 16 routes. We’re hopeful we can get to a better place on this.

But giving feedback to a plan that’s already been created isn’t the same as giving input as an active collaborator to a program. With a few simple process improvements, Port Authority could ensure that this program is collaborative, equitable and effective.

The Math:

Clearly Defined Goals
+ Rider Input & Operator Input
+ Data
+ Draft Proposal
+ Feedback & Alterations
= Good Decision Making

Over the last few weeks, PPT volunteers have ridden the 51, the 16, the 48 and the 88 to collect input from riders about which stops were important and how the process can be improved. Below are some key suggestions from local riders and operators on how PAAC can build on the process going forward:

BEFORE signs are posted at bus stops to be removed, Port Authority should:

  • PAAC should list the specific metrics that will be used to identify stops that will be removed. PAAC should score each stop according to these metrics to be transparent in what exactly drives decision-making. These metrics should include ridership data, half-fare & senior ConnectCard taps, number of wheelchair ramp deployments and the frequency with which a bus “kneels” at any given stop, as well as qualitative input like nearby amenities and the accessibility of adjacent bus stops.
  • Map social service agencies (i.e. food pantries, Department of Human Services facilities, social security/WIC/SNAP offices, and other locations used by marginalized and limited-mobility communities) and take them into account when creating a draft of which stops to remove. Talk to these agencies to get their input.
  • Communicate clear timelines around when public comment will be accepted, when preliminary stops identified for removal will be announced, and when the final decision on stop removal will be made. This feedback process should be iterative; collect input before and after the stops are identified for removal, and then make a final decision.
  • Use bus advertising space and the overhead announcement to relay information about the bus stop removal program and ask for feedback. Have comment cards on the buses for riders to give input on which stops are important and which ones are unnecessary and why.
  • Have the Port Authority staff making the bus stop removal decisions ride the affected routes and talk to bus operators and riders to identify both important and underused stops. Internally, Port Authority could publicize a meeting with the bus operators using posters and the scheduling committee to get the word out.
  • Make explicit commitments to prioritize bus shelter improvements on routes that are losing stops, or commit to providing more frequent service with the new efficiencies found through the process.
  • Provide information about bus stop removal in multiple languages and in pictures.

AFTER stops are removed, Port Authority should:

  • Report back to riders on the effect of the removal. Have the stop removals sped up the buses? How will savings be reinvested to benefit riders? How have they affected ridership?
  • Continue to collect rider and driver feedback. How are the stop removals affecting riders’ experiences?

Port Authority put lots of work into their new Bus Stop Guidelines. These guidelines include “Equity” and “Accessibility” (see page 10) in the metrics for identifying Bus Stop Need, alongside “Transit Agency Policy.” This is great work that PAAC should be proud of. But let’s follow these guidelines accordingly with the next 96 routes set for bus stop consolidation, and we won’t leave riders out in the cold.