In November, Pittsburgh Regional Transit told riders to expect a series of service cuts in February due to the agency’s continuing struggles to meet scheduled service due to a shortage of bus drivers.

Those changes and a few more were formally announced last week with the hope the agency is stabilizing operations that have taken a series of small cuts since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Phillip St. Pierre, director of transit scheduling, said about two dozen routes will have reductions in frequency as a result of changes that begin Feb. 18, a few more than the 21 projected in November but still about 1.5% overall.

In addition to service cuts, another 18 routes will see their paths change either due to construction or to get greater efficiency. The agency operates 91 bus routes.

“We’ve made very minor changes to multiple routes,” St. Pierre told the authority board’s planning and stakeholder relations committee Thursday. “Each little bit adds up to about 1.5%.”

The changes are designed to reduce the agency’s number of missed trips, which has grown since it fired 43 drivers in early 2022 who refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Most of those drivers didn’t return when the agency lifted the requirement last summer, and PRT hasn’t been able to hire enough new operators to replace them and others who have retired.

The agency’s goal is an average of 1.5% missed trips each day, but that spiked to 18% after the vaccine dismissals in March 2022 and has frequently been double the goal.

As a result, the agency has reduced service several times in the past two years so it can at least deliver what it promises, which is CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman’s highest priority. Transit ridership and hiring have been a national problem since the pandemic, and other agencies have undergone massive cuts while PRT has made incremental changes.

Kelleman said she is confident this will be the last of service cuts for the foreseeable future.

“The intent is to be able to meet all of our service commitments,” she said. “This one and no further. The focus here is not to do these nip-and-tuck reductions moving forward.”

The agency has increased incentives for new hires and has some of its largest training classes for new operators scheduled this year. Its budget calls for 1,200 operators, but typically it has closer to 1,000 and fills some trips with overtime.

The reductions next month typically remove one or two trips from the beginning or end of weekday or weekend routes, times with low ridership. The plan is to put some of the drivers from those trips on the agency’s relief board, where drivers without scheduled trips can be assigned each day to fill in where trips otherwise might be canceled due to call-offs.

Once the schedule is stabilized, Kelleman said, the agency can begin looking at adding service in targeted areas through its network redesign, which began last year. That project will look at areas where existing routes should be shifted to other neighborhoods because housing patterns have changed and extend transit to areas that need more service, such as Harrison and Moon.

Gone are the days with huge early morning and late afternoon spikes in ridership centered around Downtown Pittsburgh, she said. Instead, riders want more midday trips and shorter trips to neighboring communities rather than trips from the suburbs to Downtown.

“We need to be able to get service to those areas that need it,” she said.

One route that will see added service is 71B, which carries riders from Pittsburgh’s eastern neighborhoods through Oakland to Downtown. Two morning trips will be added to that route inbound.

The agency has been seeing crowed buses in that corridor since October, when it decided to end the 61D and 71A, C and D routes in Oakland because they were redundant and the agency wanted to reduce buses Downtown during construction of the new University Line. That $291 million project will install exclusive bus lanes between Downtown and Oakland so that buses don’t get caught in rush-hour traffic.

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at