Advocates Say Port Authority’s Fare Changes Would Fail The People Most In Need
The Port Authority of Allegheny County’s proposed fare hikes drew criticism Friday from a number of advocates who say the plan comes up short for the system’s most vulnerable riders, particularly in the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed Black residents and people with low or no income.Under the proposal, which the agency released earlier this month, per-trip cost would be $2.75 for all riders, but transfers for ConnectCard users would be free; people who pay in cash would continue to pay $2.75 every time they board. The plan would make weekly and monthly passes rolling: instead of starting on a fixed day, such as the first of the month, the clock would start when riders begin to use them.
Dana Dolney of Just Harvest said the recommendations entirely miss the mark for the significant number of riders who depend on public transit, pay in cash, and lack access to Connect Card machines.
“They can’t make use of the three-hour free transfers you’re proposing,” she said at Friday’s board meeting. “There are no savings for them, there is no assistance, no equity in these proposals."
According to Port Authority officials, people who pay in cash make up 8% of the agency’s ridership.
Advocates also noted that many riders pay in cash because they lack bank accounts or credit cards. Laura Perkins of Casa San José said the people they serve include newly-arrived families who face numerous barriers to transit access.
“We at Casa San José feel that none of them have been addressed with this current proposal,” she said. In addition, she said that if Port Authority wants to encourage the expansion of ConnectCard use there must be greater access to ConnectCard machines.
“We have been asking for a machine in Beechview for years, and that would greatly affect ridership,” Perkins said.
Laura Chu Wiens of Pittsburghers for Public Transit said there are ways for the Port Authority to help these riders in the near term, without massive investments in technology or an increase in ConnectCard machines.
“Pass the emergency fare relief program,” she said, referring to a policy her organization put forward in September. It would offer payment assistance similar to that offered by other public utilities. “Allow SNAP riders to show their access cards to board, to address the overwhelming need that exists now.”
Sam Applefield of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council said the cost of that program is estimated at $4 to $8 million, “a fraction of the over $500 million that Port Authority has received over multiple rounds of federal stimulus funding.”
Applefield mentioned a recent white paper from the Allegheny County Health Department that expressly linked affordable transit to public health.
Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman said this is just the beginning of the conversation, and acknowledged that the agency needs to do more to help cash riders.
“We are committed to making our fares more equitable, flexible, and more useful overall,” she said.
The public comment period will run through May 5, with meetings held virtually on Thursday, April 22; Friday, April 30; and Tuesday, May 4.
Margaret J. Krauss: email@example.com
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