Transit riders in Allegheny County are being presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
After 12 years of being in this office, current County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has reached his term limit, and will vacate the seat in January, 2024. That means that this year’s election for County Executive on November 7th is going to decide which newcomer is going to take the seat and lead the whole of Allegheny County.
Of all political positions, the Allegheny County Executive (the #ACE) has the most power to address the needs of transit riders. The #ACE has the power to hire and fire Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT)’s CEO, appoint many of the transit agency board members, decide and approve the budget for PRT, the County Health Department, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, and Allegheny County Economic Development, among other agencies. This translates into a lot of opportunity– around transit rider representation and decision-making power at PRT, around transit funding growth, around accessible, dignified and safe infrastructure, around service expansion and affordable fares, and around the needs of transit riders to be able to find quality affordable housing near quality transit.
Tens of thousands of residents of Allegheny County depend on public transit to connect them to life-sustaining services, grocery stores, educational centers, and employment opportunities. We need a County Executive that believes that mobility is a right, and who understands that high-quality, affordable, and people-focused transit is necessary to address the persistent inequalities in health and economic outcomes between different communities in our region, and to have an economically vibrant region.
Add your name to say that these transit justice demands are important for the next Allegheny County Executive
Make sure you’re ready to vote in the General Election on November 7th
With all of that at stake, PPT has worked with our membership to develop a platform with some of the top demands that transit riders have for the incoming #ACERace.
Pittsburghers for Public Transit, a grassroot union of transit riders, workers, and neighbors who wants to see candidates for the Allegheny County Executive dedicated to:
1. Rider Representation and Board Accountability In Decision-Making at Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT)
- There are different ways to ensure that riders have a voice on the Pittsburgh Regional Transit board. The Allegheny County Executive could propose that PRT have board seats that are elected by Allegheny County voters, and/or have special transit rider seats that are filled by a nomination or appointment process from stakeholder organizations like Pittsburghers for Public Transit, the Committee for Accessible Transit, the Allegheny County Transit Council, and Age-Friendly Pittsburgh.
- Board members’ transit usage should be audited and published annually, to make transparent their familiarity and knowledge of the transit system that they are governing. This is a practice in some other transit agencies nationally and could compel all members of the board to take transit more regularly.
- As part of the Board appointment process, the #ACE should ensure that PRT board members reflect geographic diversity of the region, with a particular emphasis on recruiting riders from the Mon Valley for the positions.
- PRT Board meetings should be accessible and meaningful for riders to attend, with space for Board members to hear and discuss feedback from the public.
- Examples of other transit agency practices around rider representation and accessible board meetings can be found here: https://www.pittsburghforpublictransit.org/ppt-recommendations-for-paac-public-engagement-improvement/
2. Equitable and Expanded Transit Funding
- The Allegheny County Executive should commit to raising local, state and federal funding for the agency, particularly operating funding. The #ACE could lead a local funding referendum to be able to sustainably expand service.
- The Allegheny County Executive should work with PRT and employers to pass Transportation Demand Management (TDM) legislation, requiring large employers and developers to provide free transit passes to employees. This is an important way to grow ridership in Allegheny County, to have dedicated and expanded funding for our transit agency that is paid for by corporations, and to support recruitment and retention of workers through this transportation incentive. More than 50% of the fare revenue collected by the Seattle area transit system is through bulk discount fare passes purchased by employers for their employees, not individual transit rider fare purchases. PRT is finally piloting a bulk discount fare program for employers and developers, which should be paired with county legislation on Transportation Demand Management.
3. Commitment to Fully Accessible Transit
- Ensure that PRT communications and branding are in Spanish and other languages, particularly in local communities with growing populations of immigrant residents.
- Commit to recruitment and appointment of people with disabilities in all departments of PRT and all county agencies.
4. Commitment to Affordable Housing near High Quality Transit
- Support the passage of a countywide inclusionary housing to ensure that transit riders can afford to live in neighborhoods experiencing development that have better or more frequent transit.
- Require the County Housing Authority prioritize the funding and development of low-income housing by existing transit assets.
- Provide funding and expertise to municipalities to plan for development to integrate affordable housing, retail and social services, and quality transit.
5. Commitment to Reliable, Expanded Transit Service
- The #ACE needs to recognize that the workforce shortfall is a serious crisis for our transit system and riders, and one that will not be reversed without an aggressive recruitment and retention strategy. PRT is now short over 200 transit operators, and that gap will continue to grow with the wave of retirements scheduled for this year and next; in fact, the attrition now each month is higher than the number of new employees that PRT is even able to hire and train. The #ACE must work with PRT to ramp up its recruitment strategy and incentives, and speak with transit workers to address morale so that workers feel supported in the role.
- Require that PRT has a realistic plan to restore pre-pandemic service levels.
- Create a plan at PRT to increase the frequency and service span to include overnight routes.
6. Commitment to Affordable Fares for Low-Income Riders
- Commit to a permanent zero fare program for all SNAP/EBT households in Allegheny County after the low-income discounted transit pilot ends. Identify and allocate funds to ensure that the County Department of Human Services has sufficient resources to sustainably run the program.