Two buses pull up to the stop at 6th Avenue and Wood Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
On Wednesday, they carried residents from Baldwin and Groveton Village whose residents haven't had a nearby bus stop since 2011 when the Port Authority of Allegheny County cut services to 15 percent of its users as a cost-savings measure.
The authority's expansion of both the 44 Knoxville route to Baldwin and the 20 Kennedy route to Groveton began Tuesday as part of its quarterly service adjustments.
Those changes weren't without prompting, said Laura Wiens, coordinating committee member for Pittsburghers for Public Transit. Baldwin and Groveton residents have been fighting to restore their service for four years.
“Bus lines are lifelines. (Community members) reminded us that bus lines keep us connected to schools, to our churches, to our shopping centers, to our doctors, our communities," Wiens told a celebratory crowd. "Without them, we are very literally stranded.”
The grassroots advocacy group rallied through community campaigns, political lobbying and marches like one in 2014 that called participants to walk more than a mile on Baldwin roads lacking sidewalks. The conditions put former riders in danger, Wiens said, because they didn’t have access to a bus stop in their community.
At the rally, Dietra Hawkins, of Groveton said she started school in January and didn’t have an easy way to get to classes.
“Thank God I had a family member that would drive me to the bus stop, which was a mile from our house,” she said. “On the way home from school, I had to walk and I was walking on the main drag where there’s tractor trailers, trucks, and I had to be very careful navigating that road.”
Port Authority driver Mike Harms thanked the community in particular for the new routes.
“They said it couldn’t be done," he said. "But together, workers, community members and activists, it proves what can be done. There’s power in the people.”
Wiens said drivers like Harms not only helped distinguish which routes were most needed, but also knocked on doors, talked to neighbors about completing surveys and signing petitions and attended Port Authority board meetings.
Still, she said, the fight will continue.
“There are still communities that don’t have their bus service back, that need bus service and are living in transit deserts like Moon Township, like Penn Hills," she said. "We are going to be working with the residents there to advocate for them to get their bus routes back as well.”