After a delay of nearly three years, Pittsburgh Regional Transit is ready to roll out a trial program to sell bulk passes to businesses or apartment buildings that serve 10 or more people at a discount of nearly 75%.
Under a program funded by The Heinz Endowments, the agency is accepting applications from groups that will be able to buy passes that normally sell for $97.50 a month at a reduced cost of $25 a month for six months. The agency would like to see employers or landlords include the passes as a perk at no charge, but they could sell them to recipients for the reduced cost.
Riders would save $1,170 a year if they receive the pass for free or $870 if they pay $25 a month.
“Either way, it’s such a big discount it’s going to be a significant benefit for the rider,” PRT spokesman Adam Brandolph said. “This can be something that is part of a benefits package or lease. That’s a big savings.”
PRT was approved for a $50,000 Heinz grant to start the program before the COVID-19 pandemic, which sharply reduced ridership and put the program on hold. Now, with some riders returning, the agency sees the program as an opportunity to encourage more people to start riding public transit again.
“It’s something that we’ve been talking about since before the pandemic,” Brandolph said. “Now, with the economy the way it is, it’s kind of hard to argue that it’s not an opportune time to do it.”
Reaction to the program announced last week has been positive.
“It’s definitely piquing folks’ interest, which is really nice to see,” Brandolph said. “We’re really pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest we’ve received.”
Pittsburghers for Public Transit, a frequent critic of PRT, fully endorsed the plan.
“It’s great — something we’ve been calling for for a long time,” said Laura Wiens, the group’s executive director. “It could generate more ridership and revenue, and it doesn’t come on the backs of low-income riders.”
Besides increasing ridership and revenue, PRT said other goals of the program are to reduce road congestion, pollution and parking needs.
PRT will accept online applications through March 3 and spend another month preparing the passes and surveys that applicants and riders will be asked to fill out to see how it is working. Major employers such as UPMC or BNY Mellon likely won’t be involved in the trial because they would have too many participants, but they should be able to participate if the program becomes permanent.
The program is open to any business with 10 or more workers, any multifamily building with 10 or more units and nonprofits such as libraries. Service agencies could offer passes to their clients.
Applicants must be located within a half mile of a PRT transit stop and buy passes for all employees or residents. The agency said it will favor applicants who already are making efforts to meet the program’s goals.
The pilot is expected to start April 3. Riders will receive a monthly pass on their mobile device every month for six months.
Brandolph said the bulk purchase program is the latest in a series of attempts to offer various price points for riders. The agency allows riders to buy passes through payroll deductions before taxes and has reduced fares for children and teens.
Allegheny County also is testing a program that offers reduced or free fares to low-income riders.
“There are now many populations that qualify for a special program,” Brandolph said.