Transit advocates are pleased that Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget includes a $1.41 billion increase in transit funding over five years, but they agreed at a roundtable discussion Tuesday that even more money is needed.

The forum, coordinated by Pittsburghers for Public Transit at Pentecostal Temple Church in East Liberty, included federal, state and local elected officials as well as riders. The overwhelming consensus was that the additional $39 million a year for Pittsburgh Regional Transit isn’t enough and more dedicated transit funding is needed to expand service and reduce the number of people who drive cars by themselves.

Laura Wiens, PPT’s executive director, who moderated the event, said all forms of transit in the Pittsburgh area have cut service by 37% in recent years. Some of that could be attributed to sharp ridership declines during the pandemic, but she stressed that lack of appropriate funding has limited transit growth.

Now, she said, with a series of transit-friendly elected officials in place, this is a “special moment” to push for transit expansion. She stressed that more transit would lead to population increases and economic growth, citing figures that claim every $10 million in transit spending leads to $32 million in economic growth.

“We are done with decline,” she said. “We know investment in public transit benefits the economy.”

New Allegheny County Chief Executive Sara Innamorato is a strong supporter of improved transit, her deputy chief of staff, Ernest Rajakone, told the group. Expanded transit leads to economic development in neighborhoods with service, reduces air pollution and improves access for riders, he said.

Even more state and federal funding is “absolutely necessary” to take advantage of those benefits, he said.

“It is critical we have new funding to get where we want to go,” he said.

Wasi Mohamed, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-Swissvale, said Lee is a sponsor of the proposed Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act, which would generate operating funds for transit for the first time. Instead of only helping with construction projects, the bill would commit $80 billion to transit operations over five years, an additional $175 million annually for Pittsburgh Regional Transit.

The belief is that expanded service would draw more riders and pay for itself over time.

One specific area the panel agreed on was the need for PRT to offer employer discounts so that companies can encourage their workers to use transit.

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Barbara Warwick, D-Greenfield, said the city has had a good response to a program it started this year to pay half the cost of transit for employees. Allegheny County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam, D-at large, has encouraged Community College of Allegheny County to include free bus rides for its students like Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and Point Park, among others, already offer.

That kind of program could provide a big boost to ridership for PRT, which is still lagging as much as 30% behind pre-pandemic ridership. Wiens said a similar program in the Seattle area generates more than 50% of the ridership for the transit agency there.

“We want to get [an employer discount program] started this year,” Wiens said.

Two legislators on the panel, Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, and Nick Pisciottano, D-West Mifflin, serve on the PRT board of directors and said they would support discounts for employers to deliver groups of riders to the system. Brewster said the agency is working out “the logistics” of the program.

Jim Ritchie, PRT’s chief communications officer, who didn’t attend the panel, said in an interview the agency expects to begin talking publicly about a program soon and have something in place by July.

“That is the direction we’re heading,” he said, noting that there will be public discussion with riders, employers, advocacy groups and others in the coming months.

“The structure of what that looks like is still being worked up. Those details are what will come forward.”

In an interview after panel, Hallam said it is important push for more funding and employer programs as soon as possible.

“If you have all of these people in favor,” she said, “you have to push for it now.”

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