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Port Authority Wants Its Customer Service To Be As Mobile As Its Vehicles

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
By the end of the year, Port Authority plans to enable a chat feature that would allow you to text with a customer service representative instead of having to call, among other changes.

After months of beta testing, Port Authority of Allegheny County launched its new website today

Unlike its predecessor, the new site plays nicely with mobile devices, and the refurbished Trip Planner feature interfaces with Google Maps.

“If you’re using transit, your life is already on the go … you’re probably running between locations, you might be on the street trying to figure out where your bus is,” said Katharine Kelleman, Port Authority CEO. “It makes sense to support our customers where they are using our services.”

By the end of the year, the agency hopes to add other service improvements, such as a customer service chat feature. Instead of calling in, patrons will be able to exchange texts with staff. Kelleman expects that service to be popular, so they first have to ensure they have the personnel to handle the increased volume of communication. Spokesperson Adam Brandolph said they also hope offer customers the ability to order pre-loaded Connect Cards online and receive them in the mail.

Port Authority’s forthcoming mobile app will also likely be released before the end of the year, said Brandolph. The app will allow customers to purchase a fare from their phones without a Connect Card.

Officials are still waiting to hear if the federal government will help fund the region's proposed bus rapid transit system, which carries a roughly $200 million price tag. The system would run between Downtown, Uptown and Oakland before branching off along the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, to Highland Park and Squirrel Hill and Greenfield. 

The authority’s BRT plan was one of a handful of projects rated highly by the Federal Transit Administration this spring, which puts Port Authority in a good position to secure the roughly $100 million in funding it requested. For context, requests for those federal Small Starts grants nationwide total only $278 million this year, said Kelleman, well under the $495 million proposed in the 2020 budget.

While Allegheny County CEO Rich Fitzgerald has repeatedly said the region will find the money for BRT, Kelleman is more measured.

“We are optimistic [about the federal money] but we still have a lot of work to do to get to the point that we can commit that we’re going forward exactly with that project. 

Port Authority is finalizing its design and fine-tuning expected costs in the process. Kelleman said they’re preparing budgets for different funding scenarios, from a just-the-basics system to one with all the bells and whistles.

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