The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system will burden communities that most depend on public transportation with higher costs and less frequent service, according to protesters who gathered Thursday in Braddock to speak out against the plan.
Residents in Braddock, Rankin, Duquesne, and McKeesport can currently catch one of the Port Authority’s 61 series buses—61A, 61B, and 61C—and ride it all the way into Downtown. That kind of uninterrupted trip is called a one-seat ride, and would be eliminated on the BRT’s proposed route. Riders would instead travel into Oakland on a 61, then transfer to a dedicated BRT vehicle.
Holding signs that read, “Transit is a human right,” and “Bus lines are lifelines,” speakers described how they depend on buses to travel to doctor’s appointments, to school, or to access a grocery store, and how the changes would affect them.
The monetary and physical costs of switching buses take a toll on these communities, which tend to be older and have higher concentrations of poverty, said Tina Doose, president of Braddock Borough Council.
“Going into Oakland, getting off one bus and getting on another bus and waiting for that to happen, that’s a real inconvenience,” she said. “And when you have mobility impairments it’s more than inconvenience, sometimes it’s an impediment to be able to get where you need to go.”
Braddock and Duquesne have some of the highest cash usages of Port Authority users, which means paying an extra 25 cents per trip, and paying full fare for a transfer.
But nothing is set in stone. Port Authority spokesperson Jim Ritchie said the BRT fare policy has not been decided; planners are still sussing out how they might change routes to compensate for loss of service on the 61s.
“What are those other changes to bus routes...that we might be able to enhance so that we can provide a one-seat ride to downtown,” he said. “We might be able to extend the frequency on those routes.”
Much of that work had to be suspended while Port Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority officials prepared a federal grant application, due September 8, to support the project, said Ritchie.
“The planners who work at Port Authority couldn’t really start the process of evaluating other bus routes, or what changes we might be able to make in correlation to the BRT project to help other riders in the area until they knew that specific BRT alignment.”
The “Core+2” route, selected in June through a community process, will allow electric buses to travel in dedicated lanes from Downtown, through Uptown, and on to Oakland. From there, the main line continues to Wilkinsburg along the East Busway, while two other branches split off, using regular lanes to travel to Greenfield and Highland Park.
Community members said they were upset Port Authority officials have yet to talk with them about how they could be impacted.
“I’m just a call away,” said Doose.
“So far, they have only had community discussions in the places that stand to benefit from the BRT and not the places that are entirely bearing the negative impacts of it,” said Laura Wiens of Pittsburghers For Public Transit.
Ritchie said Port Authority plans to hold community meetings in the affected communities this fall.
At a meeting held in Uptown in June, city and Port Authority officials acknowledged that the BRT will mean changes to service that could mean greater expense and inconvenience for some travelers.