#VoteTransit County Executive Candidate Q&A

image description: graphic with a photo of the candidates who responded to PPT’s #VoteTransit candidate questionnaire superimposed over a PRT bus and a yellow/red background. Text reads “Transit Q&A with candidates for County Executive #VoteTransit on May 16th”

Transit riders must elect a #TransitChampion as our next County Executive!
Primary Election is May 16th
General Election is November 7th

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The Allegheny County Executive is the most powerful person in Southwestern Pennsylvania when it comes to public transit – so it is vital for transit riders to elect a #TransitChampion into the position. The County Executive controls the majority of appointments to the Pittsburgh Regional Transit Board of Directors which control the transit agency’s $500+ million Operating Budget and $200+ million Capital Budget. Additionally, the County Executive controls board appointments and hundreds of millions of budget dollars at numerous County entities that directly impact the public transit system and its riders, such as the County Housing Authority, the County Department of Human Services, and the County Economic Development agency. Good people, robust budgets and progressive policy at all of these entities can transform transit in Allegheny County.

To ensure that transit riders are educated on where these candidates stand on public transit issues and what their vision is for our system, Pittsburghers for Public Transit issued a candidate questionnaire to all of the candidates running for our county’s top posiiton. Check out the answers that this candidate gave to our questionnaire below.

There’s big potential for having a #TransitChampion as the next County Executive, so transit riders are making some big demands. You can read the demands that riders are making for our next County Executive and sign-on to support below:

Candidate’s Answers to the #VoteTransit County Executive Candidate Questionnaire
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Answers are displayed below for the 5 candidates who returned responses to PPT’s #VoteTransit County Executive Candidate Questionnaire. Answers are displayed as candidates submitted them and have not been proofread for spelling or grammatical mistakes. PPT did not receive answers from Joe Rockey or Theresa Colaizzi.

The page is lengthy, so use these hyperlinks to navigate and see candidates’ answers to specific questions:

  1. What is your vision for restoring and expanding transit service frequency, span and coverage in the County? 
  2. If you were the County Executive, would you commit to ensuring that the Department of Human Services discount fare program pilot becomes a permanent zero fare program for all SNAP/EBT households in Allegheny County? How would you ensure that DHS has sufficient resources to sustainably run the full program? 
  3. As County Executive, how will you ensure that developers in Allegheny County are building more affordable housing near great public transit? 
  4. How will you ensure that transit riders have a meaningful voice and decision making power at the highest level of Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT)? 
  5. What ideas do you have for increasing the amount of regional funding going to PRT? 
  6. As County Executive, how will you ensure that corporations and large employers in Allegheny County provide more funding for our transit system? 
  7. As County Executive, how will you ensure that both language access and disability access are central considerations in all the programs and agencies that they are overseeing?

See these pages for candidates’ individual answers

1. What is your vision for restoring and expanding transit service frequency, span and coverage in the County? 

Dave Fawcett: Relative to bus and T service, I am in favor of just about anything that will increase ridership, especially among those who most need public transportation: members of marginalized communities; people without cars who need to get to work and job sites; and our elderly and disabled populations. I see cutting or eliminating fares for those under the median income level being critical to restoring ridership. I also see emphasizing creativity and evidenced-based solutions for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of public transportation. Finally, we absolutely must address the issue of the ongoing shortage of operators…a deepening issue for PRT. I also see more rail and subway transportation as part of the vision for expanding transit service in Allegheny county. As a long time bus rider and passionate advocate for sustainability and equity, restoring and expanding transit service in Allegheny County is a pillar of my campaign and platform. 

Sara Innamorato: Public transportation is a human right and a critical lifeline for many people in Allegheny County. At a time when we face multiple crises — disproportionately impacting low-income and Black residents, as well as people with disabilities — we should be expanding service. Secondarily, investment in public transit is a driver for local economies and can revive regional industries. Coming from the General Assembly, I understand the limitations of funding streams, but we should be thinking creatively about how to expand and improve transit, not cutting it. I have been a partner to Pittsburghers for Public Transit at the state level, and I will continue that partnership as County Executive. There are a few key steps I will take immediately and others that we will work together on in the medium and long term. 1) I will appoint at least one rider and one operator to the PRT board so that the experiences of those most impacted by service changes guide board actions; 2) I will put a moratorium on service reductions and cuts and open a community process to determine where service needs to be restored or added; 3) I will immediately begin a series of conversations with state and federal DOT officials and others to ensure PRT is accessing all available funding opportunities and is submitting competitive applications for funding; 4) I will seek sustainable new funding streams such as a local revenue stream funded via fees on ridesharing by advocating for enabling legislation at the state; 5) I will work with Mayor Gainey to help implement the 100 Days of Transit Platform recommendations that the County and PRT can assist with such as incentivizing municipalities to put in place pro-transit zoning reforms, using Allegheny County Economic Development to fund on-street transit improvements such as priority lanes and signaling, and others. These steps would go a long way towards improving and expanding service in my first year in office. 

Michael Lamb: I believe that Allegheny County needs and deserves a world-class public transit system that keeps all of our communities connected, helps drive the engine of our economic development, and helps attract and retain workers and businesses as we continue to grow. My vision for our system, at its most basic level, is that everyone in Allegheny County should be able to reliably get anywhere they need to go in the county-–to work, to see a doctor, to get groceries, to visit friends and family-–in a reasonable time, with reasonable convenience, for a price they can afford. And I believe that the workers who keep that system running should be paid well and receive good benefits. That should be the goal, and as County Executive I will work towards making that goal a reality while prioritizing improved services and greater affordability for those members of our communities who are most in need and most reliant on public transportation. 

William Parker: As County Executive my vision for restoring and expanding transit services is updating the bus schedules to real times, delays, and potential road closures.

John Weinstein: An accessible Allegheny County is how we grow Allegheny County. One of my greatest priorities has and always will be to grow this region to the greatest extent possible, and an important part of that is comprehensive transit coverage that enables our neighbors to readily access work, schools, stores, physicians, and all of life’s daily needs. Accomplishing that goal requires a proactive effort to seek out public input. We must engage at all local levels to determine what those local needs are in order to build plans that are not only efficient but also effective.

2. If you were the County Executive, would you commit to ensuring that the Department of Human Services discount fare program pilot becomes a permanent zero fare program for all SNAP/EBT households in Allegheny County? How would you ensure that DHS has sufficient resources to sustainably run the full program? 

Dave Fawcett: Yes. 
As for sustainability of funding solutions, I would encourage and negotiate with employers and non-profits to supplement or fully pay for fares incurred by their students, patients and employees. Paying for public transportation as part of an employee’s compensation package is an idea that has been implemented in the past and should be implemented on a large scale. There are many other creative solutions for ensuring funding for such a needed and worthwhile program as the zero fare proposal for SNAP/EBT households. 

Sara Innamorato: Absolutely. I am a huge supporter of this program and will immediately work with DHS and PRT to make it permanent and even expand eligibility. We need to restore ridership on PRT to obtain more federal funding. This program is one of the keys to doing that and would eventually pay for itself. I am committed to making the program both permanent and sustainable. One example is that by putting up just $4 million more in matching funds from county government every year, we could unlock an additional $30 million in funding for DHS from the state. This would more than cover the cost of an expanded, permanent program. We must great creative with the funding we pursue to sustain this vital program. 

Michael Lamb:  Yes, I would commit to working towards turning the discount fair pilot program into a zero fare program for all SNAP/EBT households in Allegheny County. DHS is almost half the budget of the 3 billion dollar budget of the county. There are enough funds as it stands, but we could be better using those funds. I’m confident that we can bring together all policymakers and stakeholders to find creative solutions to address our transit funding challenges while ensuring that the neediest members of our communities have full and free access to our public transit system.

William Parker: I would first like to review the data and conduct a survey before I commit to making a decision that will be permanent. However, I do believe the current pilot is a great program that gives us an opportunity to evaluate how attractive discounted fares can be to riders who take advantage of them to get to work, hospital appointments and the grocery store. 

John Weinstein: I think this program is so important. It’s empowerment. It’s how we help to build people and families up. I want to help this community match its great potential, and means ensuring all have the ability to access their needs. Opportunities exist to utilize private-public partnerships to fund this program, to help people, and to make sure our residents can get to where they need to go. I look forward to the chance to build those bridges.

3. As County Executive, how will you ensure that developers in Allegheny County are building more affordable housing near great public transit? 

Dave Fawcett: I would seek to encourage the passage of local zoning ordinance changes that would facilitate and in place require affordable housing. I would not tolerate economic incentives (such as TIFs) without requiring accompanying affordable housing. Finally, I would encourage PRT investment in better facilities and stops near actual and potential affordable housing sites. 

Sara Innamorato: Incentivizing transit-oriented development is critical to rebuild ridership for PRT, meet our climate goals, create vibrant communities, and open up greater access for people who choose not to own a car or cannot afford one. I have worked with stakeholders to explore the ways in which the state can support transit-oriented development that includes mixed-income housing and amenities.  I will double down on that strategy when I’m in office. I will also work with staff at PRT to re-prioritize TOD through their planning and real estate divisions. PRT could be doing much more to advance the issue, such as ground leases for development that require TOD and housing affordability. I will instruct Allegheny County Economic Development and other county entities that interact with developers to build TOD requirements into their funding guidelines and to host information sessions with all developers about how to do TOD well. 

Michael Lamb: We need to think of public transit development as community development, because our public transit is truly a lifeline for many. I believe that transit-oriented development should be a cornerstone of our future economic development priorities in Allegheny County. As we continue to grow and attract a new generation of people who value high-quality public transportation options, I think it is in developers’ best interests-–and the public’s-–to increase transit-oriented development, and I fully support incentives and requirements to significantly increase affordable housing development as part of those efforts.

William Parker: As County Executive, I would work with developers and make sure there are guidelines in place before any contracts are approved.

John Weinstein: Public transit is an incredible resource for Pittsburgh, for Allegheny County, and for this entire region. It is imperative that we maximize its utility. That begins with talking with community leaders, neighbors, and developers and translating their feedback into a cohesive strategy that lead to thoughtful plans and tangible results. The trend of population loss locally is a problem, and while we have succeeded in many other ways, one we can clearly improve on in order to retain local and attract external talent is to regularly listen to those that rely on these systems and adapt as necessary. Rebuilding our infrastructure for better reliability, stabilizing routes, and accounting for usage all must be seriously evaluated, and done so quickly.

4. How will you ensure that transit riders have a meaningful voice and decision making power at the highest level of Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT)? 

Dave Fawcett: I would be sure to appoint riders to the PRT Board. I would have public hearings and make inquiries. Most importantly, I would insist that PRT make changes in routes, facilities and programs as suggested by transit riders for the purpose and with the effect of increasing ridership.

Sara Innamorato: The first step is more riders and operators on the PRT board, which I will move on immediately. PRT also needs a much more robust public engagement strategy that provides more opportunity for constant feedback from riders and operators and actions to implement that feedback. Right now the organization feels very closed off to input from those most impacted by their decisions, which isn’t good for PRT and certainly isn’t good for riders and operators. I will work with PPT and others to set up regular meetings between PRT ridership and PPT membership as a starting point, and we can build better engagement systems together. 

Michael Lamb: I really enjoyed the ride-along on the 61C and I myself use our buses frequently. I believe the County Executive should do regular ride-alongs to have a hands-on experience of our transit systems. I have always prioritized transparency, inclusiveness and accountability throughout my career, and will continue to do so as County Executive. I believe the people who use and rely on public transit every day-–as well as the workers who keep our transit system running every day-–are some of the best resources we have to understand where our system is succeeding, where we are failing, and where we need to improve. I will ensure that PRT leadership and leaders across county government have regular opportunities to hear from transit riders and workers so that their input can help inform the work we do and hold us accountable as we do it. 

William Parker: I would invest in new technology and add rating features on the bus for transit riders to give real-time feedback from their everyday experiences.

John Weinstein: This is one of the most critical factors facing our public transit system. The reality is that many charged with developing plans do not utilize them on a regular basis, and so cannot wholly appreciate the existing situation. That is why we must emphasize the voices of local users, and why we must come to them. We need listening sessions that identify systemic problems and coverage gaps. The best voices to speak those concerns are those that use the system for their everyday needs, and I plan to go far and wide to hear those concerns.

5. What ideas do you have for increasing the amount of regional funding going to PRT? 

Dave Fawcett: Seek partial funding from employers and non-profit organizations (see above); otherwise, the Drink Tax has been a good supplement to funding and I would be willing to explore other such creative solutions if the need arises. 

Sara Innamorato: We need local funding streams, and I have a few ideas for how to make that happen. One is fees assessed on ridesharing rides that would go into a new fund to support public transit. We need state-enabling legislation to do this, and I have the relationships to get that done. We also need to look at our current local funding streams, such as the poured drink tax and RAD to  ensure that those are being used to their fullest potential to support PRT’s most critical needs. I will also coordinate with Mayor Gainey on how to make sure the region’s largest corporations and massive non-profits are paying their fair share, either through taxes or PILOT agreements.

Michael Lamb: I think we have a lot of opportunities to leverage state and federal funding, along with greater contributions from corporations and our largest employers, to increase regional transit funding. It will be one of my priorities to pursue those opportunities as we look to make major transit infrastructure investments across the county. I would also welcome your input on any ideas or solutions to help expand PRT funding so we can address the challenges we face and build the world class transit system that we need and deserve in Allegheny County.

William Parker: I would partner with corporations, local businesses, and nonprofits throughout the region.

John Weinstein: One main driver is to continue identifying means to promote internal efficiencies so as to maximize the reach of operating revenues, such as expanding the fleet’s transition to electric buses. Additionally, I would call for an allocation increase from the Allegheny Regional Asset District.

6. As County Executive, how will you ensure that corporations and large employers in Allegheny County provide more funding for our transit system? 

Dave Fawcett: See answer to #2 above. I think there is also potential for corporations, specifically tech-based ones, to make contributions to public transportation through consulting services to improve the digital functionality of our public transportation. 

Sara Innamorato: One early opportunity is to fully implement a bulk pass discount program to get large employers to pre-pay for transit passes for their employees. This would provide new, sustainable, reliable revenue streams for PRT as well as help to rebuild ridership. I will also explore the feasibility of a Commuter Benefits Ordinance such as the one passed and deployed in Seattle. Additionally, as noted above, I will seek PILOT payments or additional taxes from large employers and non-profits to invest in PRT and support system expansion. Large employers need a strong, reliable public transit system, and they should be contributing more to it. 

Michael Lamb: I have spent my career standing up to large corporations who try to cut corners when it comes to doing their fair share for our community. But as much as we need regulation and enforcement, the County Executive needs to have a strong relationship with our largest employers so that they can help the develop opportunities to further invest in the communities their employees work and live, starting with public transportation. I fully support requiring corporations and our largest employers to pay their fair share and contribute to our communities. Many of our largest employers would simply not have a workforce if it were not for the public transit system that their workers rely on every day. They stand to benefit from a high-quality transit system that helps attract and retain talent from across the country. so it is more than reasonable to expect corporations and large employers to more fully invest in our transit system. I am committed to ensuring that they do so.

William Parker: I would consider implementing a public mobility tax.

John Weinstein: As the County Treasurer for more than two decades, I’ve had the great fortune to develop relationships throughout this region and the country. We have companies looking to build right here, but they need the requisite infrastructure to attract employees. Accessible and efficient transit is one of the things topping that list. I can draw on those relationships to make sure that as we build back our infrastructure, public transportation is one of the top priorities.

7. As County Executive, how will you ensure that both language access and disability access are central considerations in all the programs and agencies that they are overseeing?

Dave Fawcett: I would insist on it. I would seek to appoint a member of the Board to represent the interests of the disability community and other minority populations.

Sara Innamorato: I helped form the Welcoming PA caucus in the General Assembly and have worked directly on these issues as a State Representative. Through our work, we had Democratic Caucus leadership dedicate resources for translation services for our district office and materials. We MUST have full language access for all public materials and systems, and we have the tools to do it; it just takes political will. Spanish-speaking and Mandarin-speaking immigrants are some of the fastest-growing populations in our region, and we must support them and other immigrants more fully. I will create a new position at PRT focused on language accessibility so that there is staff dedicated to working on getting this done. The same goes for disability access. We must prioritize universal design as the starting point for all new projects and invest in retrofitting existing stations, bus stops, shelters, and other infrastructure to comply with the principles of universal design.

Michael Lamb: I have always prioritized accessibility in all government services, and I believe that diversity is a tremendous asset as we continue to grow and develop in Allegheny County. I will work to ensure that no one in our communities is ever excluded from fully accessing any government service because of a disability, a language barrier, or any other reason, and I believe any investments we make to achieve that goal will more than pay for themselves.

William Parker: Train bus drivers to actively look for creative ways to engage with everyone, always be open for questions and concerns. Additionally, I will always consider both language barriers and disability barriers when making critical decisions around them.

John Weinstein: Every person deserves dignity. Whether you are a new neighbor in our community or require physical accommodations, you must be able to access vital public resources such as transit and many others. We’re a melting pot. We invite and welcome individuals of all backgrounds, which is a large part of what allows it to excel. Promoting inclusivity has been and always will be a staple of my role as a public official.