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Allegheny County will allow some people to ride public transit for free as part of pilot study

Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA

Allegheny County officials want to study how low- or no-cost public transportation could help low-income families, and they’re looking for households to participate in a yearlong pilot program.

People between the ages of 18 and 64 who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are eligible to apply, according to the county Department of Human Services, which will oversee the study. People who have a disability and already have a half-fare Connect Card are eligible to participate, but those who have a discounted fare through an employer or school are not.

Participants will be randomly assigned to three groups: a free fares group, a half-price fare group, or a regular, full-price fare group that will act as the study’s control. Family members will also be able to ride according to that group assignment.

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Roughly every three months, DHS will ask people to fill out paid, voluntary surveys. At the end of the initiative, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard University will analyze data about how people traveled, their jobs and pay, doctors visits and other questions.

DHS director Erin Dalton said the department is excited to see the results of the study.

“We expect that this program will go a long way in helping people get to services, medical appointments, jobs or healthy food, while allowing them to spend their money on other necessities,” she said in a press release.

County officials say they intend to use the results of the pilot to assess the potential for a permanent program.

The application can be found on the project’s website, and community groups are also helping people to sign up.

A group of nonprofit organizations, including Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Just Harvest, the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, and UrbanKind Institute, has advocated for years to allow SNAP recipients to ride for free. In a press release announcing an effort to sign low-income riders up for the pilot, PPT said the organization views the effort as an “important first step towards winning a permanent, zero-fare program for all SNAP households in Allegheny County.”