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Advocates hope new faces are coming to the Pittsburgh Regional Transit Board

 A blue bus with white writing.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA

When Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato took office earlier this year, she inherited a chance to recast a number of positions on high-profile county boards and authorities, including the Pittsburgh Regional Transit board, which oversees the local transit system.

Advocacy groups hope she’ll use the opportunity to add new perspectives to the board. Pittsburghers for Public Transit, for one, is asking Innamorato to appoint replacements who regularly ride the bus — a criteria that board members have often not met over the years.

“We wanted to highlight riders that are very dependent upon PRT for different reasons,” said Emily Howe, a PPT member who has also worked on the group’s research committee to recruit board candidates. The goal is to draw from groups that include low-income riders, people with disabilities or mobility issues, transportation workers, people of color, and others who have been historically excluded from boards, the committee wrote in a report.

The board is responsible for approving budgets, influencing policies around fare affordability and capital investments, and overseeing the transit agency’s CEO.

Five members of the 11-person volunteer board are serving on expired terms, and the term of a sixth is set to end later this year. The county executive is responsible for filling the six seats (though two must also get approval from County Council). While other board members are chosen by state-level officials, Innamorato has an early chance to put her stamp on the future of transit in the region. (While some current members could be reappointed, two are term-limited and must be replaced.)

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Amidst service cuts, an operator shortage and a slow rebound to pre-pandemic ridership levels, board members will be “the ones that create the vision for the future of PRT, and who it’s going to serve,” Howe said.

She noted that including people from diverse backgrounds aligns with Innamorato’s goals as county executive.

County Council member Bethany Hallam voiced her support for the approach Tuesday, at a transit roundtable hosted by PPT.

“We really need to push our elected leaders to put forth actual transit riders on the board,” she said. “We have gotten too used to political favors as appointments when … it needs to be riders who are sitting on these boards where these decisions are being made.”

Elected officials who attended the event were optimistic about PRT and the future of public transit in the county, but stressed that the agency needs more funding from state and federal government.

Innamorato’s deputy chief of staff for intergovernmental affairs, Ernest Rajakone, said the county plans to expand PRT’s offerings and improve public transit. “But for that, it is critical that we have new funding that's available to grow with us.”

Governor Josh Shapiro’s proposed state budget includes an additional $40 million annually for PRT — a record increase, if approved. At the federal level, meanwhile, aproposed bill in the U.S. House could also funnel tens of millions of dollars to the agency and other larger transit agencies.

The Innamorato administration is currently accepting applications from residents interested in serving on boards or commissions, including the PRT. Spokesperson Abigail Gardner said officials are “working hard to identify candidates to serve the PRT board” but do not yet have a timeline for when they might be appointed.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at