PPT has been inviting members of the Port Authority Board of Directors to ride the bus with the drivers and riders who interact with the system day in and day out. These riders and operators are the unsung experts of our transit system, and they need to be brought to the table if we’re going to build an equitable system for all.
PPT is thrilled to have had three Board Members accept these invitations to join on the rides: John Tague Jr, Rep. Austin Davis, and Jessica Walls-Lavelle.
A little background on the Board Members who came along
PPT is encouraged by the Board Members who joined the ride-alongs. This shows a real willingness on the part of these leaders to understand how riders experience the system and work to improve it. Rep. Davis and Ms. Walls-Lavelle are new to their positions, and PPT is confident that with this approach, they will do good things for Port Authority.
John Tague Jr is a long-time disability rights advocate. He is a regular rider of PAAC transit as well as ACCESS. He chairs the Board Committee on Stakeholder Engagement. Throughout his tenure on the Board, John has made a concerted effort to connect with riders and bring their input to the table. Check this Post Gazette article published after his appointment in 2012 for more on his background and advocacy for disability rights.
Rep. Austin Davis is a new to the Board, appointed in March 2019 by Rep Frank Dermody. Rep. Davis is a sophomore Representative of the Monongahela Valley, a region where transit’s usage is high and its value is essential. He has been vocal about the vital role that transit plays in his constituents’ lives and has advocated for an extension of the East Busway into the Mon Valley.
Jessica Walls-Lavelle is also a new to the Board, appointed in April 2019 by Governor Wolf. Ms. Walls-Lavelle works as the Director of Wolf’s Southwest PA Office. Before that, she worked with SEIU for eight years. PPT believes that her long history with Labor and her desire to be a conduit for equity will make her a positive addition to the Board.
Check our Port Authority’s website to see more about the other 8 Board Members who have not joined a bus ride along yet.
The route selected and the issues raised
This first round of ride-alongs was held on the 1 Freeport, a route that runs from Downtown Pittsburgh all the way out to New Kensington and Tarentum.
This is an important route that riders and drivers wanted to use to highlight some big issues:
- The lack of CONNECTCard machines forces riders to pay in cash, which ends up costing these riders more. This is the #7 highest cash usage route, where nearly 1 out of every 5 riders pays in cash. A single ride costs $2.50 with a CONNECTCard fare, but $2.75 with cash. Card users get transfers for $1. Cash users have to pay another full $2.75. That means a cash rider who needs to get to their job and back, and who has to transfer once, pays nearly 60% more a month than someone with a CONNECTCard- just because there aren’t enough CONNECTCard machines spread throughout the county.
- Pushing riders to pay with cash slows down service and makes it impossible for drivers to keep on schedule. Additionally, tensions that can arise between riders and drivers over fare payment create dangerous situations for all. The answer is not to remove the ability to pay cash or to charge cash users more, it’s to make fare payment easier with more options. PPT is grateful that PAAC is introducing a Mobile Fare Payment app in early 2020.👍
- Improved policies must tie transit and affordable housing. Many families in this corridor have transportation costs that exceed their costs of housing, as the #1 household cost burden. And residents of communities like Natrona and Natrona Heights with dense affordable housing have sparse or nonexistent access to transit.
- The lack of safe, connected sidewalk infrastructure creates dangerous situations for riders who need to walk to and from routes and wait for buses. It also makes for dangerous conditions for drivers and passengers as the stop to pick up and drop off riders. Port Authority, PennDOT and boroughs/municipalities need to collaborate and build sidewalks and crosswalks to get safely and easily to bus stops from key destinations, and our bus stops need lighting, benches, and shelter from the elements.
- More service needs to be added to these communities! The conversation has been started about how a coalition of organizations and riders can fight for dedicated, sustainable transit funding to get more frequent and round-the-clock service, and routes in Allegheny Valley’s transit deserts.
Next Steps + Take Action
The Port Authority’s Board of Directors make critical decisions that affect transit riders and workers every day: they approve changes to fare policy, service expansion, investments in new technology, union contracts…the list goes on. They are the ones that are best positioned to advocate for riders and shape a transit system that works for all, but they need to experience the system from a grassroots perspective to truly understand it.
PPT sends a huge thanks to Board Members Jessica Walls-Lavelle, Representative Austin Davis, and John Tague for coming on these ride-alongs. PPT looks forward to scheduling more rides with the other Board Members and working towards a more equitable transit system.
Raise the concerns that you want to see brought up with Board Members on these ride-alongs. Leave your questions/concerns/ideas in the comments of this Facebook video: