© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WESA's radio signal is down in New Baltimore. We are working on a fix.

Port Authority Says Mobile Ticketing Will Start In August

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA

There it is —the bus — and there you are: stooped uncomfortably in front of a ConnectCard machine, whispering sweet nothings to the hulk of metal and wires slowly processing a ticket that is your one hope for a timely arrival, thinking wistfully of what it would be like to buy bus fare on your phone.

“In 2021, we’ve come to expect a whole lot more,” said Adam Brandolph, Port Authority spokesperson. “It should be seamless, it should be very easy, and we hope that’s what we’re making public transit in Pittsburgh.”

In other words, the wait is almost over: Port Authority’s mobile ticketing app, Ready2Ride, will launch in August, Brandolph said.

Expanding access to ticketing has been a real struggle for the agency, said Ellie Newman, Port Authority’s section manager of service development. It has been largely dependent on ConnectCard machines that require a fair bit of room, a concrete pad to sit on, partners with business hours that makes it worthwhile to install the expensive equipment and a connection to the internet. Ready2Ride changes that by allowing people to purchase the agency’s full suite of fares and passes from their phones.

“Being able to use mobile ticketing is just harnessing the power of the web, you know, the web makes everything easy,” said Newman. “We’re finally able to broaden and kind of democratize access to our fare payment options.”

Even people who don't have smart phones will see broader changes soon. Riders who pay in cash will be able to avail themselves of unlimited transfers for up to three hours when the agency’s new fare policy takes effect. That’s because the technology underlying Ready2Ride allows Port Authority to partner with small retailers who can sell and print tickets that can be scanned on board. That means people won’t be dinged with another full-cost fare just to transfer.

“One of the reasons that we started [work on Ready2Ride] in the first place is that there are limitations to the Connect Card,” said Brandolph. “There’s no question about it.”

He added that the agency hopes to sign contracts with select vendors by the end of the year, and said the set-up is minimal: perhaps an iPad and a small printer. While Brandolph could not disclose potential partners, he said they could be libraries and national pharmacy chains as well as corner stores, and that the agency would be interested in having a discussion with the U.S. Postal Service. The Port Authority will create signs for contracted vendors that alert people to tickets on sale within, said Brandolph.

The app won’t roll out for light rail riders for about another six months, due to installation challenges.

In anticipation of its launch of the app, Port Authority conducted a study to look at what its impact could be on minority groups and people with low incomes. The federally-required Title VI analysis is meant to prevent any big changes at the agency from having a disproportionate impact on minority groups or people with low incomes.

Newman was in charge of the study. While a 20 percent difference in experience among groups is the threshold for disproportionate impact, Port Authority found differences of plus or minus one percent between groups.

Before Ready2Ride can launch, Port Authority’s board must approve the analysis at its meeting on Friday.

In beta-testing, people described the app as easy-to-use, said Brandolph. Newman said she is excited to see how such a tool affects travelers’ likelihood to ride transit.

“If we didn’t have that service, they might have been too afraid to try it because they didn’t know how much the fare was and they didn’t know where to get the bus and so on.”

Even after Ready2Ride is available, people will still be able to use ConnectCards and cash.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.