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Port Authority will offer free rides as its vaccine mandate takes effect

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Port Authority officials expect nearly 16%of their bus and light-rail operators to be held off work on Wednesday, when the agency’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect. Tuesday was the last day an employee could work unvaccinated, or with one dose of a two-dose course.

But even before the mandate had taken effect, transit riders have been seeing significant disruptions to service. And starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, officials told operators to wave passengers on without paying.

The move was an effort “to acknowledge the challenges that our riders are facing with staffing shortages related to the vaccine requirement,” said Adam Brandolph, Port Authority’s spokesperson.

Free trips for all riders will continue through Sunday.

On Saturday, the out-of-service rate jumped to 28 percent before falling to roughly 7 percent on Sunday and Monday. That’s still several times higher than the normal rate of roughly 2 percent.

The out-of-service rate is expected to climb even higher on Wednesday.

Brandolph said 480 people will be held off work, with pay, pending disciplinary hearings that are set to begin on Friday; 180 of those employees operate buses and rail cars.

Despite being short nearly 16 percent of its drivers, Brandolph said that doesn’t necessarily mean 16 percent of Port Authority trips will be out of service. Some operators are on backup rather than assigned to a route, and others may choose to work overtime.

However, travel headaches and delays seem likely.

For people who have already purchased and activated a seven- or 31-day pass on a ConnectCard or through a mobile ticketing app, Port Authority will issue a complementary weekly pass.

Riders who use a ConnecTix can bring their 7- or 31-day pass to the customer service center Downtown to receive a free seven-day pass.

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