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Pittsburgh’s New “Connected” Way To Pay For Travel

Slowly but surely, the days of cash and cardboard card passes for Pittsburgh mass transit are becoming a thing of the past. Starting November 16, riders who buy December monthly passes at the Downtown service center will get “ConnectCards,” plastic cards that a rider will use in place of cardboard passes.

Port Authority spokesperson Jim Ritchie said the new payment system will be more convenient for than cash.

“Anyone who’s been to other cities with smart cards and they visit, and they’re able to buy a weekend pass or another kind of a smart card-based offering, learns very quickly how easy these things are and how convenient it is,” he said.

In addition to the greater convenience, Ritchie said the new ConnectCards would also provide the Port Authority with more security on fares.

“It helps us avoid fraudulent activity which we do experience in our system,” Ritchie said. “We’ve found counterfeit paper passes in the past, people find clever ways to try and cheat the system and ride for free. This is going to make it very difficult for them in the end.”

The new cards have another advantage over current forms of payment: if the card is stolen or lost, the Port Authority will replace them at full value. So if a rider leaves their card on the bus, the rider can call up the Port Authority and have their card replaced with the full value of the card intact.

But there is one catch:  the owner of the card has to register it with the authority. If it isn’t registered, it cannot be replaced.

Roughly 6,800 of the 15,000 riders who buy monthly passes purchase them at the Downtown center. Those who buy their passes elsewhere will continue to get cardboard passes for the foreseeable future.

So far, about 40,000 University of Pittsburgh students and employees, 660 annual pass customers, and 360 other riders have participated in pilot testing the new technology.  The full $32 million conversion is expected to be complete sometime next year. When it is finished, cardholders will have the option to purchase unlimited rides for a set amount of days, such as a weekend, a week, or a month, or they can load a cash balance onto the card and have individual fares deducted a la carte. However, no timetable has been set for the phase-in of these purchase plans.