There could be a delay on Pittsburgh Regional Transit’s plans to use vans to shuttle passengers who normally use the closed Monongahela Incline between Mount Washington and Station Square.

The Amalgamated Transit Union said Tuesday there still are many details to work out about the proposal before it can begin. Agency CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman said last week the union had agreed to the special van shuttles, but union President and Business Agent Ross Nicotero said the union that represents bus drivers hasn’t signed off on anything yet.

The union is concerned about guaranteeing that van drivers will be paid the same rate as bus operators because other agencies across the country have tried to establish a two-tiered wage system. Other concerns include training for the drivers, where the vehicles will be stored, and how the drivers will be chosen.

Those issues are important because this will be new equipment with a different type of lift for wheelchairs, Nicotero said. Staff who normally operate the incline should be eligible for the work, he said, but some of them haven’t worked as professional drivers for several years.

“All of those things have to be worked out, and we haven’t talked about them yet,” he said. “They just think they can say they want to do something and do it.”

He also expressed concern that it could be the first step toward the agency starting micro transit service, where it uses smaller vehicles to serve riders wanting to travel between neighboring communities. The union isn’t against that concept, which the agency said recently it will study, but the details haven’t been negotiated yet, Nicotero said.

Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said the agency will be available if the union wants more discussion about the proposal.

“These are union jobs [at the regular pay rate],” he said. “Beyond that, I’m not going to comment.”

The incline has been closed since March 5, the latest in a series of closures that began after the agency finished an $8.1 million upgrade last March to the facility’s mechanical system and restored the stations to their original look when it opened in 1870. Last week, the agency board agreed to buy three Ford Transit mobility vans at a cost of $257,400 to provide shuttle service if problems continue.

The vans have an easier time navigating the narrow streets on Mount Washington, Kelleman said.

During this latest closure, the agency has replaced the brake resister and the motor controller that failed, but it doesn’t want to reopen the incline until it is reasonably sure that problem won’t happen again. It is in the process of hiring an outside consultant to review the operation of the 154-year-old funicular.

The incline won’t necessarily stay closed until the consultant finishes its review. It carries about 600,000 riders a year, half of them tourists.

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