Transit in Allegheny County should be equitable, connected to affordable housing, a conduit for economic opportunity and a means to improve regional air quality, said riders and a coalition of organizations who presented a new mission for transit this week.
“Transit is the connection to every one of our vital needs, and in its absence, those connections are severed,” said Laura Wiens, executive director of nonprofit Pittsburghers for Public Transit. “Which is why it must be considered a civil right and a human right.”
The Riders’ Vision for Public Transit calls for an extension of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, free transfers, free fare days to encourage more people to ride the bus, ubiquitous access to Connect Cards and policies that require affordable housing to be built near transit lines.
The future of the region depends on building the public transit system, said Braddock Borough Council President Tina Doose.
“If we’re going to revitalize the Mon Valley, we have to have transportation at the core,” she said, emphasizing the need to extend the busway to McKeesport and Monroeville from its current terminus in Swissvale to spur economic development.
“I know some of the studies have said it’s too costly, we can’t do an expansion of the east busway,” she said. “I don’t think we can continue the way we are. We need to grow and change access to good jobs, access to housing; this is important to all the Mon Valley communities.”
The presentation of the transit vision was also a celebration of recent changes in bus service.
Port Authority of Allegheny County restored service on the 59 bus to the Hilltop Parkview Apartments in Duquesne. In addition, the agency reversed a plan for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system this spring in order to preserve direct routes to downtown from communities in the Monongahela Valley. Both came after months of sustained advocacy from riders and the nonprofit Pittsburghers for Public Transit.
“These are really only the first steps toward a growing transit system that serves everybody,” said Wiens, the group’s executive director. “The recipe for growing transit ridership is not a secret: ultimately, we need more bus routes. We need increased frequency of service and service that runs on weekends and evenings.”
Wiens and speakers from Just Harvest and the Mon Valley Initiative said they are committed to fighting for long-term transit funding in order to accomplish those aims.