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Bus Stop (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Bus Stop (Photo by J.L. Martello)

After two years of surveys, public hearings and community meetings, the Port Authority of Allegheny County finally approved major changes to its fare policies that it projects will initially cost it more than $7.5 million.

The board approved the changes at its last meeting of the fiscal year in June—the biggest being the elimination of the zone 2 fare of $3.75, making all rides. $2.50 for ConnectCard users and $2.75 for cash customers—and making all riders pay on entry. Transfers will be $1 for card users. Cash customers pay full fare for each ride.

Authority CEO Ellen McLean said the authority believes the changes will draw more customers to use PAT, and make up for the loss in fare revenue.

“This is an investment in our riders. We heard what mattered most for customers. Flat fare, pay-on-enter and card use incentives simplify the ride,” she said.

“The investment makes riding more affordable for many, which in turn should encourage more residents to ride.”

Other changes, all of which go into effect Jan. 1, 2017, include eliminating the free bus rides in Downtown, charging $1 for ConnectCards and make all riders pay at the start of their trips. The T-will still offer free rides from the North Side through Downtown, but next July, the T will go cashless, meaning riders will have to use a connect card or purchase tickets before each ride.

However, to minimize the effects of eliminating the free bus rides in downtown, and the needs of occasional travelers who normally rely on cash, the authority is bringing back a ghost from the past—the One-Day pass. It can either be added to a ConnectCard or purchased as a ConnecTix from vending Kiosks. It will cost $7 and allow the user unlimited rides from the beginning to the end of service on a single day.

But with pay-enter and the T going cashless, T riders will be on the honor system. So, what is to stop someone who decides to dodge the fare and ride from, say, Allegheny Station to South Hills Village?  To combat that, Port Authority police will randomly check riders’ cards or tickets with handheld validators to make sure they paid. Violators will be cited and fined $150.

The biggest change for veteran riders will be the pay-enter system. On most inbound routes it doesn’t raise an issue, but leaving town—at rush hour—will mean long lines, some with wheelchair-riders, all boarding at the front of the bus.

McLean said increased usage of the connect cards will eliminate some of the wait. Tapping a card over an electronic reader can take a second or two, she said, while it takes riders 15 seconds, on average, to pay cash.

Though most of the changes are supported by transit activists, not all are. Pittsburghers for Public Transit Organizer Molly Nichols said while she “wholeheartedly” supports reducing the Zone 2 fare, her group remains opposed to the surcharges for cash-paying customers, along with the higher cost of transferring for cash-paying customers. Increasing the number and location of kiosks is also a concern.

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