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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Plan To Charge For ConnectCard Postponed

The Port Authority’s plan to charge for new and replacement ConnectCards has been put on hold.

The board’s planning and stakeholder relations committee postponed its consideration of the proposal at the July 16 meeting, leaving no resolution for the board to consider on Friday.

“The committee anticipates continued discussion on this topic and will determine whether this should appear on the agenda in the upcoming months,” committee chair John Tague said.

Port Authority originally planned to charge up to $5 per card to cover production and processing expenses; the committee discussed a $3 charge instead. The one-time fee was to take effect Aug. 1 and would not apply to the 350,000 electronic cards already in circulation.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Pittsburgh resident Gabe McMorland spoke for the advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit. He said the group opposes the card fee as well as base fare increases, which the group anticipates will be discussed in the fall. No fare increases have been included in the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget.

The region would benefit from increased transit funding, but the money shouldn’t come from vulnerable, transit-dependent riders, he said.  

“It could be a big (burden to) minimum wage earners or fixed-income seniors or someone on disability," he said. "It could really take a lot out of their funds.”

Jonathan Robison, chairperson of the Allegheny Country Transit Council, said the policy committee’s prime concern in the coming year will be fare policy. He also opposes a fee for the ConnectCard, as it would push people to use cash, slowing the system and increasing cash handling expense.

“We want virtually every rider to use the ConnectCard rather than paying cash. Thus, charging for the ConnectCard would be penny wise and pound foolish,” he said.

Mt. Lebanon resident and public transit user Glenn Walsh said he understands it would not be feasible to dispense ConnectCards for free at automated machines, but suggested a lower fee.

“So I suggest a $1 fee for a ConnectCard at an automated machine, due to the added convenience of obtaining the card at the machine. In 2009, I bought a similar Breeze card at an Atlanta subway station’s automated machine for just $1; the Breeze card is still just one dollar,” he said.

One-time smart card fees range from city to city. New York City's MetroCard goes for $1, Chicago's Ventra Card costs users $5 and Philadelphia's SEPTA Key Card runs $4.95 per card.

Port Authority Spokesman Jim Ritchie said last month he expected mixed feedback and any cost “beyond zero” would be considered.

The board held two public hearings on the card fee leading up to Friday’s meeting. Tague said the board has listened to riders concerns and will continue the conversation at the next board meeting Sept. 25.