Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Public Transit Drawing Record Numbers in U.S

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Public Transit Drawing Record Numbers in U.S

Article excerpt

With Americans taking a record number of trips by public transit last year, some Pittsburgh ridership is following the national trend, but only on the local systems in which the city has invested: the sleek, fast and reliable light rail, or "T," system rather than the overcrowded, slow and unpredictable bus system, according to transit experts.

Use of Allegheny County's Port Authority light rail system increased by 7.5 percent last year, the second-greatest increase among cities of comparable size, according to a study released recently by the American Public Transportation Association. At the same time, the study found that Pittsburgh's bus ridership dropped by 3.4 percent, even as similar cities such as Cincinnati and Cleveland posted gains.

Budget cuts in recent years that forced the Port Authority to cut entire bus lines, scale back remaining coverage and schedule buses less frequently prompted many riders to make alternate plans, according to Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie. Still, there is hope.

"The lean years at the Port Authority have unfortunately left their mark, but with the funding bill that just passed in Harrisburg, we've certainly turned the corner," Mr. Ritchie said. "We're looking at a lot of system improvements that we hope will draw people back to the bus system."

The transit bill signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in November will pass approximately $47 million to the Port Authority beginning after the 2014 fiscal year opens July 1, according to the Port Authority. The authority will receive $91 million in state funds in fiscal year 2015 and $99 million in fiscal year 2016.

That money will first erase the authority's persistent structural debt, and then additional buses will start running in September -- after drivers pick routes, according to their union contracts -- to begin to ease crowding, Mr. Ritchie said. Riders will see additional improvements approximately every three months, when drivers can pick routes again.

"We will initially address overcrowding and frequency [of bus trips] and then make tweaks to existing routes that have created hardship for riders," he said. …

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