After a successful pilot last year, Allegheny County announced Monday a new program called Allegheny Go that will provide half-cost transit fares for riders who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

That is a good first step, transit advocates said, but they will continue their push to provide free fares for low-income riders.

At a news conference along the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway in Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato said she was aware of the push for reduced transit fares long before she took office in January. She acknowledged that more than 60 groups have been part of the Fair Fares Coalition.

“I’ve been tracking the progress of this for years now,” Innamorato said. “I know this has been a long road we have been on. This is so vital.”

As many as 120,000 people could be eligible for reduced fares, said Erin Dalton, director of the county’s Department of Human Services that operated the pilot and will pay for the program.

Starting June 3, riders who have smartphones can download Pittsburgh Regional Transit’s Ready2Ride app from the Apple App Store or Google Play and then apply at Eligible riders then will be able to buy fares at half price on their phone, for example $48.75 for a 31-day pass with a regular price of $97.50.

CEO Katharine Kelleman said PRT expects to have a new “smart card” available for all riders beginning in January so SNAP recipients won’t have to have a smartphone to get the discount. That should help all riders because there will be many more places where they can add money to their cards, while the current ConnectCard has to be updated at one of the transit system’s kiosks.

The transit agency didn’t play a role in last year’s trial, but Kelleman said it supports the program. It’s difficult for the agency to be involved in offering reduced fares because of restrictions on how it spends federal and state funds, she said.

“We’re charged with being a transit provider,” she said. “We’re really bad at who should get a fare [discount] and who shouldn’t.”

 Nonetheless, Kelleman said she is “excited” for the program and how it will affect the lives of many riders by allowing them to make needed trips for food, medical care and other life necessities.

“It’s discount fares, but let’s be honest: It’s about dignity,” she said.

Tiera Collins, an advocate with Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said the lack of mobility that low-income people face “forces you to make impossible choices” among food, medical care and recreation. She thanked the county, the Department of Human Services and PRT “for listening and showing that we are being heard.”

Rider Sherai Richardson said she faced that challenge more than two years ago when she moved to Pittsburgh after a fire in Texas destroyed all her belongings. She initially had problems getting from a homeless shelter to agencies to apply for benefits and buy clothing because of the cost of bus fare and the need to have daycare for her emotional support cat.

Now, she lives in a Hill District apartment and has plans to start a business cleaning offices and tidying up after home construction projects. Her dream is to own her own home. Her participation in the reduced fare pilot last year allowed all of that to happen, she said.

“I’m proud of the progress I’ve made over the past two years and how this program has helped me,” she said. “If I can get around, I can thrive.”

Dalton said the program will cost her department about $1.2 million for every 10,000 riders that participate, which could push the annual cost to more than $13 million. It’s “not practical” at this time to offer free rides because of the cost, she said, but the agency will encourage “as many people as possible” to get the reduced fare.

“Any time we can reduce the burden of poverty and put money in people’s pockets, we’re going to do it,” she said.

Laura Wiens, executive director of PPT, said the agency is satisfied to start with discounted fares and is training volunteers to help recruit SNAP recipients to participate.

“We’re celebrating this program will be available to all SNAP recipients,” she said. “We know there are benefits to half fares.”

Innamorato said she’s still looking for ways to provide free fares for low-income riders.

“We have s shared vision,” she told advocates. “We’re looking for a financial model that works for DHS and PRT. Let’s celebrate today and get back to work tomorrow.”

Ed Blazina

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