Some bus riders in the eastern suburbs feel like Pittsburgh Regional Transit is picking on them again as the agency finalizes plans for its Bus Rapid Transit system.
They aren’t happy that PRT is shortening the P3 route on the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, which takes riders into the busy Oakland hospital, education and retail district.
Instead of running from the beginning of the busway in Swissvale, PRT has proposed beginning the route at the Wilkinsburg station, where it will have charging stations for electric buses that will be part of the rapid transit system.
As a result, beginning in 2025, riders who board in Swissvale and want to go to Oakland would either have to transfer in Wilkinsburg if they use the busway or switch to the 61A or B that provide only street service.
“It seems like the PRT continues to prioritize Oakland and Downtown Pittsburgh rather than the people in the suburbs,” said Amalia Tonsor of Swissvale, who recently graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a nursing degree and is preparing for her state board exams before beginning a nursing position in Oakland next month.
“Asking people to transfer who have never had to transfer before as an answer is not an equitable plan. The bottom line is we shouldn’t have to transfer at all.”
PRT spokesman Adam Brandolph said the proposed change would likely add five minutes of travel time for riders who transfer, and 12 minutes for those who switch to street service.
The P3 change is one of several the agency is considering in the Oakland area, and it will take comments on the proposed changes through Wednesday.
Early plans for the rapid transit system called for eliminating dozens of trips from the eastern suburbs and forcing those that remained to have riders transfer in Oakland to BRT buses to continue to Downtown Pittsburgh. When suburban riders objected to not having direct Downtown service, the agency modified the plans to allow suburban routes to share the dedicated bus lanes rather than have riders transfer.
Tonsor said the P3 proposal seems like the same thing to her.
Often riding before dawn, Tonsor said she sees dozens of service and health care workers who depend on direct service to Oakland. In her experience, service already can be unreliable, and adding a transfer would only increase those problems.
Tonsor added that many of those riders are cash customers who would have to pay a second full fare to switch buses. The proposal would eliminate stops at Swissvale and Rosslyn stations in Swissvale, and Hamnett in Wilkinsburg.
“Part of what I’m disappointed by is that, time and again, it’s Oakland and Downtown that get all of the attention,” she said. “It’s those commuter routes that get the ax.”
Tonsor and Nichole McCafffrey of Wilkinsburg were among those who questioned the P3 change at public hearings last week. McCaffrey, a graduate student in social work at Pitt who uses the Hamnett stop, said the proposed change would “add another wrinkle to your trip” that could make service “less reliable and less efficient.”
“Having that P3 is really nice and convenient,” she said. “I think you would have to place a lot of trust that they would actually meet the schedule if you have to transfer.”
Brandolph said plans can still be altered, but the agency proposed the changes because officials didn’t think they would cause a significant problem. He added that the agency would monitor how the electric buses actually function on the system, and whether they can travel farther than expected before needing to be recharged.
“There’s quite a bit of time between now and ,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Brandolph said riders may see similar proposals in the future on other routes as the agency looks at ways to send buses into new service areas during a period of reduced ridership and drivers. That may not sit well with riders who like their current service.
“We hear them, but if cutting your service a little affords us the opportunity to put service somewhere else in our system where there is no service, I think we’re going to err on the side of providing new service,” he said.
Two years of construction on the BRT system is expected to begin in the Downtown area this year before moving to Uptown and Oakland. The $291 million project will establish bus lanes with priority at traffic signals inbound from Oakland on Fifth Avenue and outbound on Forbes Avenue.
Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at email@example.com.