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Development & Transportation

Pittsburgh Launches Move PGH, A New Way To Navigate The City

MovePGHhub_Garfield.jpeg
Patrick Doyle
/
90.5 WESA
One of Pittsburgh’s “mobility hubs” on Penn Avenue in Garfield before launch, awaiting the arrival of the city’s first stand-on electric scooters from Spin.

On Friday, the City of Pittsburgh launched Move PGH, a two-year pilot program to improve how people get around. The initiative creates travel hubs where people can access all the city’s options: buses, bikes, mopeds — and for the first time, stand-on electric scooters from Spin.

Some 40% of all the trips people make in Pittsburgh cover less than 2 miles. Move PGH aims to provide alternatives that make it easy to travel without driving. That’s particularly important for the nearly one-quarter of city residents who don’t have access to a car.

"Transportation mobility is key to economic mobility and a major determinant in household health, education, and welfare,” said Mayor Bill Peduto in a release announcing the launch.

In the last decade or so, figuring out how to travel in U.S. cities has begun to feel like a buffet: No longer limited to the old standbys of buses and trains, the spread includes ride-hailing, bikes and mopeds.

But it hasn’t been all bliss: For a time, electric scooters emerged like locusts, littering sidewalks and annoying residents and officials alike. After watching startup companies use numerous cities as battlegrounds, Pittsburgh officials decided they wanted all of the options, but in a controlled way. And they wanted them to work together.

Too often, the burden is on the traveler to figure out how to knit a trip together, said Karina Ricks, who directs Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

“All I want to do is to get from where I am to where I need to be in 35 minutes,” she said, describing the frustration of trying to reconcile disjointed options across multiple platforms. “There’s just no easy way to do that.”

Move PGH aims to provide a simple, painless user experience through both digital and physical hubs. The digital hub is an app called Transit, which operates in more than 300 cities. Users punch in where they need to go and Transit lays out all the ways to do so: from walking and taking a bus to renting a moped, scooter or bike.

Then there are physical hubs. At 25 locations across the city, which will grow to 50 by year’s end, users can access a range of transportation modes. While not all hubs will have all options, the idea is to provide redundancy, said Ricks.

“A lot of people ... even if they have a car, they’re one blown gasket or one dead spark plug away from not being able to get to where they need to go,” she said. “What we’re trying to do with this is give people Plan B, C, and D.”

The hubs are intentionally clustered around Port Authority’s bus and light rail systems, which Ricks said form the backbone of the entire initiative.

Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman said accessibility is the freedom for people to go where they want and the ability to get there. And while the Port Authority is “the primary agency that moves our region forward … we're happy that our riders have so many other reliable transit options that allow them to be able to access our region."

Technically, Move PGH launched in 2019, when the city announced a cadre of private-sector partners — among them Spin, Zipcar, Healthy Ride, Scoobi (Pittsburgh’s homegrown moped company), Waze Carpool, and Transit — that had been selected through a competitive application process.

Lots of cities want to bundle services, but Move PGH is unique because of its public leadership, said Katie Monroe, who works for Transit’s partnerships team.

“It’s not just sort of a Wild West [where] every private-sector partner does whatever they want without coming together to make sure we’re achieving the city’s goals,” she said. “It is going to be a cool model for other cities to look to.”

Ricks said the partners were required, broadly, to do three things: integrate with Port Authority and Healthy Ride, commit to experimenting with the city to further expand access, and “be on your best behavior and responsive to the public.”

It took two years to make Move PGH a reality, in part, because the state of Pennsylvania does not allow people to ride stand-on electric scooters anywhere but on private property. However, PennDOT is eager to evolve with the rapidly changing transportation landscape, said Ngani Ndimbie, an executive policy specialist for the agency.

“It’s incredibly important to understand what our opportunities are for expanding safety and mobility and access throughout the commonwealth,” she said.

In its 2021 budget, the state of Pennsylvania allowed cities of the second class — Pittsburgh is the only second-class city — to pilot low-speed electric scooters.

“We think that there’s a lot to learn about the safety of the devices, the mobility they provide, the access they provide, who is able to use them,” said Ndimbie.

Although Move PGH is live, there is still work to be done. About 100 Spin scooters are currently in the city, a number that will grow throughout the pilot. In addition, while people can plan their trip across multiple modes of travel through Transit, the partners are still working to make the reservation process seamless. For the moment, users will have to leave Transit to reserve a scooter or a Healthy Ride bike; Port Authority’s app to digitally buy fares remains in beta testing.

In addition, the development of the physical hubs continues. Ricks said the city wanted to work with communities to ensure the hubs offer the services that residents most want. For instance, both in the Hill District and in the North Side, stakeholders asked if jitneys could be included. The short answer is yes, said Ricks, but now the task is to figure out how best to do so.

“It might be just as simple as having a designated curbside space that can be that pickup/dropoff [location] for those jitney services,” she said.

Also on Friday, Pittsburgh announced a Universal Basic Mobility pilot, in which 100 residents with low incomes will be provided with paid subscriptions to all of Move PGH’s services. The related initiative aims to study how easing access to transportation improves job and health outcomes.