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Port Authority riders can expect more missed trips as COVID hits the agency

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA

COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Allegheny County, and Port Authority employees “are not immune to that,” said spokesperson Adam Brandolph. Throughout the pandemic, the agency has aimed to keep missed trips to 2 percent or less of total trips. However, that number has begun to climb to 3 or 4 percent, and could go higher, Brandolph said.

In a news release Monday, the Port Authority asked riders for understanding and patience and advised people to allow extra time in their commutes for delays or missed trips. The agency hasn’t yet seen the widespread expression of frustration or anger; instead, Brandolph said the request for understanding was preemptive.

“It’s important to let our riders know what to expect,” he said. “Unfortunately, what to expect right now is a lot of missed trips.”

The rate of positive cases among Port Authority employees has ticked up significantly in the last few days: while 84 people tested positive in all of December, nearly 30 people have tested positive in just the first three days of this month. So far, cases seem to be spread equally across all of Port Authority’s divisions and 2,700 employees. There are about 1,400 bus and rail operators, Brandolph said.

At 74%, the vaccination rate of Port Authority employees surpasses both the county and the country. But the omicron variant has rendered that distinction somewhat toothless, Brandolph said, and it’s hard to predict what happens now.

With employees going to sporting events or holiday parties, numbers are up.

“It’s not to say anyone is doing anything wrong, but there is certainly a point at which common sense should be at the forefront, particularly during a pandemic,” he said.

When asked whether Port Authority employees carry a higher degree of responsibility, Brandolph said, “It’s not that Port Authority employees should act any differently. Maybe it’s that we should all act differently.”

The agency has advised employees to take a COVID-19 test any time they feel sick, Brandolph said. If a positive result comes back, the employee cannot return to work until she or he can produce a negative test.

If a bus or rail operator is out sick, Port Authority generally knows in advance and can alert riders, Brandolph said. To check on a particular bus or rail trip, he advised people to call customer service at 412-442-2000, use the live chat function on Port Authority’s website, or check the Twitter account @PGHTransitCare.