Port Authority of Allegheny County conducted an analysis of its service in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic slammed the agency, as well as its low-income and minority riders, officials said at the first board meeting of 2021.
In 2020, Port Authority provided less than half the trips it did in 2019; revenue was down $56 million; light rail ridership dropped more than bus ridership. In presenting the results of a service analysis, board member John Tague said this makes sense: most people who use the T are commuting to work. With a lot of jobs being done remotely, those riders aren’t there. By contrast, many people who take the bus don’t have other options to get where they need to go.
The analysis also found that low-income people were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic: they were more likely to be on buses that were overcrowded, or that passed them by because of passenger limits.
“We also found that minority riders are being disproportionately impacted by overcrowding and by out-of-service trips,” said Tague.
However, service changes made in November addressed the problem, officials said.
Laura Wiens directs the nonprofit Pittsburghers for Public Transit. She urged the agency to use $4 to $8 million to help low-income riders. Weins said people who are eligible for SNAP benefits would show their Access electronic benefits transfer or EBT card to board for free.
“It would serve as a pilot to evaluate the effectiveness of a longer term fare relief program,” she said. “More importantly, it would help folks in a desperate time access the food, healthcare, and employment they need.”
The Port Authority has received $141 million dollars in federal aid, and Congress approved more help for transit agencies in December.
Transit across Pennsylvania faces a funding cliff in the next couple years. Legislation that annually requires the Turnpike Commission to send $450 million to PennDOT — which at first covered a range of projects but in 2013 was directed just to public transit — will drop to $50 million in 2022. However, Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman said the agency is working with partners in Harrisburg to find a long-term funding solution to replace Act 89. Furthermore, she believes the Biden administration understands the value and importance of transit.
Kelleman referenced remarks made last week by incoming transportation secretary and former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigeg. He said the U.S. Department of Transportation can help drive recovery from the pandemic.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Kelleman said. “We are what connects this community so our economy can keep moving forward.”
Buttigeg went a step further in his remarks, telling a Senate Committee that “good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American Dream.” Buttigieg was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday.