PAT looks to improve Oakland, Downtown service

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Two years ago, Port Authority of Allegheny County unveiled a plan for a series of changes to make their system more efficient. Two service reductions and several half implementations later, they recently announced progress on one of the planned changes—Bus Rapid Transit.

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BUS RAPID TRANSIT—Yvonne Brown came to protest Port Authority’s handling of ACCESS, but stayed to learn more about BRT.

At a public meeting on Jan. 12, the community was given a look at the BRT plan. The meeting, hosted by Get There Pittsburgh, a partnership of more than 30 organizations, presented the initial results on a study of the Downtown-Oakland Corridor.

“Our corridor is really unique in many ways; it has two main centers—Downtown and Oakland. Scattered throughout both of these neighborhoods, we have many educational institutions. By improving the connectivity between these two areas, we can see a lot of growth,” Darryl Phillips, lead traffic engineer with Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consulting firm leading the study. “Our goal through this process is to make transportation through this corridor seamless.”

BRT is a system that resembles light rail service with a higher frequency of service and fewer stops, but less construction and operating costs. Examples of BRT can be seen in Pittsburgh East, West and South Busways.

Planning for BRT began in September 2010 when 23 organizations convened for a forum at Duquesne University. Then, in July 2011, Port Authority’s board of directors commissioned PB Americas Inc. for a $1 million study of the proposed Corridor.

“This is a federally funded study and it’s really the first step in the process of getting federal funding to eventually implement this. At this point we have not really defined what we’re doing with the Pittsburgh corridor, so we’re looking for your input,” Phillips told the small group at the meeting. “Bus Rapid Transit is also a cost effective solution. Bus Rapid Transit has the potential to lead to economic growth in the corridor.”

According to the study, the Corridor is set to see a 23 percent increase in employment by 2040 and a 14 percent increase in population. Currently, ridership along this corridor makes up 20 percent of Port Authority’s ridership.

While some turned out to hear about the plan, others are more concerned with deficiencies in Port Authority’s current service and the company’s financial struggles. The study alone was funded with an $837,993 federal grant and $209,498 in county money and similar BRT projects in Michigan and Maryland cost half a billion dollars.

“Where is the money going to come from? They’re talking about the money they’re losing in Port Authority, but if they would just reform the system they could save a lot of money,” said Yvonne Brown, who attended the meeting for information about the new plan but also to complain about Port Authority’s ACCESS service, for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. “Right now the people who are being impacted are the handicapped and poor people because they rely on this. With them not being efficient it’s hurting people.”

However, representatives of Get There Pittsburgh say a BRT plan could be implemented using federal dollars or through other methods such as using real estate values. A 2010 study by the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute found that closer proximity to a BRT station increases property values.

“I think the biggest thing is helping the community understand the benefits of this kind of transit. We really need to keep transit as a main focus. This is just one part of the process. There’s a lot of ways we can pay for this that don’t involve federal money or raising taxes,” said Chris Sandvig, regional policy manager of Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group. “You can take the increase in real estate values to pay for the transit asset in the community.”

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