TRIB OP-ED: 4 ways Pittsburgh’s mayor must improve public transit

On November 2nd, Pittsburghers elected Representative Ed Gainey to become their next mayor. In the leadup to this election, PPT’s Director Laura Chu Wiens and Member Emily Howe published an op-ed in the Trib to outline how this next mayor needs to center public transportation in their plans to build an equitable Pittsburgh for all.

With Gainey’s inauguration approaching on January 3rd, this piece is more relevant than ever. Read their piece below, and sign-on to support a public transit-first approach to mobility and affordable housing.

Emily Howe and Laura Chu Wiens: 4 ways Pittsburgh’s mayor must improve public transit

Op-ed published 10/29/21 on

Pittsburgh depends on public transit.

Recent Census numbers tell us that more than 50,000 Pittsburghers — more than 17% of our city’s population — use public transit to commute to work every day. Add students, the unemployed and other noncommuters, and the number of transit riders is much higher. In fact, 23% of Pittsburgh households do not have access to a private vehicle.

In a city that suffers from huge income, health and other racial disparities, public transit is critical to improving mobility, housing affordability, economic prosperity, air quality and quality of life.

So, as the Nov. 2 election approaches, we must ask ourselves, what can the mayor do to improve public transit?

1. Support public transit over venture-backed private mobility companies.

In “All Transportation is Local,” the TransitCenter, a foundation that advocates for improved public transit across the county, explains how “(Local government) controls how the street is used and how new development connects with transportation systems.” The same is true in Pittsburgh.

Year after year, we’ve seen the outgoing mayor bend over backward to hand over our streets and sidewalks to private mobility companies. These include self-driving car companies; $23 million to fund the Mon-Oakland Connector shuttle road for Almono LP; private sidewalk delivery robot companies; and private electric scooter companies.

The truth is that scooters, ride-hailing and other micro-mobility schemes primarily benefit upper-income, able-bodied white men. They also cannibalize public transit riders and critical transit agency funding.

It’s time for our city to prioritize people over corporations by investing public resources into public transit and infrastructure.

2. Commit to connected, comfortable, accessible, affordable and safe pedestrian and bike connections to transit.

All transit riders begin and end their trips as pedestrians or cyclists. We need pedestrian and bike connections for transit to be accessible.

The City of Pittsburgh can use its capital budget to improve transit facilities and maintenance. This includes transit-accessible and dignified features like covered bus shelters with benches; connected sidewalks and accessible curb cuts; safer pedestrian intersections with signals and traffic calming; bus bump-outs; more protected bike lanes; nonslip crosswalks; street lighting; public restrooms and water fountains located near transit; and more Healthy Ride stations co-located with transit, bike sheds and bike parking.

3. Make transit faster and more effective.

Buses carrying 40-60 passengers should get priority on our streets over gas-guzzling, congestion-causing single-occupancy vehicles. To do so, the mayor can implement policies like expanded bus rapid transit lanes; traffic signal priority for buses; peak-only bus lanes that could be used in tight spaces like Carson Street and Butler Street; and far-side stops. These innovations would help keep buses from idling at traffic lights and increase their speed and safety.

4. Pass legislation and zoning that supports transit use.

Zoning is one of the most powerful tools at the mayor’s disposal, but candidates often overlook it when thinking about improving transit. Transit riders are being displaced out of the City of Pittsburgh every day. Without funding and policies to ensure that our city has affordable housing located near quality transit lines, riders will have even less access to basic needs. Almost all cities invest money in transit operations by funding transit directly and purchasing transit passes for their employees. The City of Pittsburgh can do the same while also incentivizing or mandating that other large employers and corporate landlords purchase bulk bus passes for employees and renters.

Whether through the budget, staffing and direction of City departments, working with City Council, or using the bully pulpit to advocate for public transit riders and workers, Pittsburgh’s next mayor must support faster, more affordable, dignified and connected public transit throughout our region.

With all of the benefits that transit presents for climate, racial, gender and economic justice, it should be a no-brainer for the Pittsburgh mayoral candidates to make transit a key priority in this election. But we need your help.

When you head to the polls Nov. 2, #VoteTransit! and cast your ballot to put a public transit advocate in City Hall.

Then sign the #VoteTransit pledge to show that you care about our transit and want to see action from our city to make it better.

Have more ideas about how the mayor can support public transit in the first 100 days? Let us know. Together, we can build reliable, environmentally sustainable and affordable transit that is accessible to all.