Pittsburgh Regional Transit’s bus line redesign process is finding what the agency suspected: Riding patterns have changed since the pandemic and the agency’s ability to grow will depend on meeting those needs.

The agency’s route planning division began a review of more than 90 bus routes last October and discussed the first round of its public outreach with its Planning & Stakeholder Relations Committee last week. The initial guidance indicates riders want more service to Pittsburgh International Airport and Oakland, better connections between local neighborhoods, service spread throughout the day rather than bunching it during rush hours, and improved frequency and reliability.

“What we’re hearing is people are going different places, not just to work,” Amy Silbermann, PRT’s chief development officer, said in an interview after the committee meeting. “There will be a different balance” of service when the agency begins to implement the plans early next year.

Derek Dauphin, director of planning and service development, said the agency’s challenge is meeting those needs initially without increasing the annual budget. Limited bus operators and lack of additional space at maintenance garages make a huge expansion with a lot of new vehicles difficult at this time.

But by adjusting service in areas with less ridership — perhaps reducing hours during nonpeak travel times or on weekends — there are hours available to shift to other service to better meet riders’ needs, Dauphin said.

“What we’re finding is there are some hours we can acquire,” Dauphin said in an interview. “We think there are hours we can reallocate.”

One element that seems almost inevitable is that many changes will require riders to transfer to get to new locations, Dauphin said. Although the agency has eliminated transfer fees for noncash customers, he acknowledged that persuading riders to change vehicles could be a hard sell.

“We’re certain that it will be,” he said. “We assume a big part of the process will be marketing the changes and showing the people the value [of the adjusted service].”

If the early changes are successful at increasing ridership and the agency can build a fifth maintenance garage, it will be able to implement additional changes using the blueprint it is developing now.

Although additional airport service is high on the list for riders, Dauphin said it is too soon to say whether that can be one of the early changes. The agency expects to refine what it heard from riders in the next few months and return to the public in September with recommended changes.

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

Ed Blazina

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