From October 2013 to October 2014 the Port Authority of Allegheny County noted a $74,690 increase in passenger revenue. The uptick was attributed to a growth in ridership, up more than one percent year-to-date.

It’s too soon to hypothesize about why ridership is up, says James Ritchie, communications officer for the Port Authority.

“This was a normal fluctuation. There’s nothing specific we can see yet in that number; there’s not a trend.”

But the Port Authority is tracking change in the system through real-time data and community feedback to determine how best to respond to service demand, Ritchie says.

“What the Port Authority has been doing for the last decade is cutting service and trying to make ends meet. We used to have more than 200 routes in our system and today we have 100,” says Ritchie. “This is the first year we’ve been able to invest back into the system. It’s tremendous, it’s a new thing for us.”

With last year’s passage of Act 89, the Port Authority received state funding for transit. However, use of the funds is limited: state permission is required to direct any money toward service and they’re not to restore routes that were cut, says Ritchie. Instead, Port Authority seeks to sustain the system it has and address day-to-day issues such as overcrowding and improving on-time performance.

“We can try to address these specific target problem areas in a way that helps riders who are using it now and maybe attract people to those routes who we lost a long time ago.”

Access to transit is a fundamental part of city living. Across the county there’s a tremendous demand for service that the agency doesn’t have the funding to meet, says Ritchie.

“It’s a tough conversation to have. But it’s a new problem. We’re not talking about cutting service or raising fares. We’re talking about how to decide where to put service with the money we do have,” he says. “We’re going to need a very specific set of criteria to decide what to do with those dollars.”

Margaret J Krauss

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.