The Port Authority was created by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1956 to allow for creation of port facilities in the Pittsburgh area. Three years later, the legislation was amended to allow the Port Authority to acquire privately owned transit companies that served the area. This included the Pittsburgh Railways Company and 32 independent bus and incline operations.
On April 19, 1963 the Board of Allegheny County Commissioners authorized the acquisition of 32 transit companies, including the Pittsburgh Railways Company, which had provided bus and streetcar service to Pittsburgh since January 1902, and an incline plane company, for about $12 million. On March 1, 1964 Port Authority Transit began service.
Shortly after the Port Authority began service, 150 GM "Fishbowl" buses were introduced to replace aging ones acquired from its predecessors, a new route numbering convention was introduced, and the fare system was streamlined. Due to urban sprawl, the agency introduced new routes that served new communities. In the following years, additional buses were ordered and several new transit garages opened. Many of the trolley lines acquired from Pittsburgh Railways were abandoned, and turned into bus lines; South Hills lines via Beechview and Overbrook were retained. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Port Authority hoped to introduce a modern rapid transit system known as Skybus with rubber-tired vehicles running on rails, but the plan fell through.
In the early 1970s, the Port Authority entered what was dubbed by its fans the "Mod" era, with buses repainted in splashy paint schemes. Several new flyer routes and routes to Oakland's university core were introduced as part of a new general marketing strategy. In 1975 the Port Authority took over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad commuter rail line to Versailles, which it branded PATrain. These new routes, coupled with the 1973 oil crisis, generated a major increase in ridership. Due to the poor state of the economy at the time, fares increased and there was a brief strike in 1976. In spite of these setbacks, the South Busway opened in 1977 and plans for other capital investments were made.
During the 1980s, with gas prices falling and population loss from the decline of the steel industry, ridership decreased and the agency lowered fares to attract new riders in the middle of the decade. Many new buses were ordered, and the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway opened in 1983. Construction of a light rail line that started in downtown south to traverse Beechview, with lines to South Hills Village and Library progressed during the decade. Part of the line was an updated version of the old trolley system. In July 1985, the downtown subway opened, the Beechview line followed in 1987 and the Library line a year later. In 1989, the agency celebrated its twenty-fifth year of existence, and commuter rail to Versailles was discontinued.
The agency was rocked by a four-week strike due to a labor dispute in 1992. The strike, coupled with changing demographic patterns, caused a decrease in ridership. New buses that were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 were introduced early in the decade. In 1993, the badly deteriorated Overbrook light rail line was shut down, requiring trains to use the Beechview line. Several capital projects, such as the construction of a western busway and light rail extensions were considered. In 1998, the agency rebranded itself as "Ride Gold" with new paint schemes and a new marketing campaign.
In 2000, the West Busway from the Ohio River to Carnegie was opened. Shortly thereafter, new bus routes to outlying communities such as Cranberry were established. In 2003, a short extension of the East Busway was completed. The following year, the Overbrook light rail line was re-opened after a lengthy reconstruction. Construction also started on a light rail extension to Pittsburgh's North Shore near Heinz Field, known as the North Shore Connector. Unfortunately, in spite of the capital projects expansion, the agency was in serious financial trouble by the middle of the decade. In June 2007, the agency went through with a 15 percent service cut in order to cut the deficit. In order to provide a dedicated source of funding, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato introduced the controversial 10% Allegheny County Alcoholic Beverage Tax in 2008 to fund the agency. Later that same year, another strike was narrowly averted. The agency is planning a major service overhaul that will begin to go into effect in March 2010.
The Port Authority pays $168,763 annually to Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney and $48,750 annually to Greenlee Partners to lobby the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Between 2007 and 2010, the Port Authority cut its annual expenses by $52 million and raised its revenues by $14 million to help alleviate a statewide transportation funding crisis. The funding crisis only grew worse, however. The state legislature assumed it would receive permission to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road to increase revenues, but the federal government denied the request, leading to a gap in the state transportation budget of $472 million.
On November 24, 2010, the Port Authority's board of directors approved a massive service cut and fare hike to go into effect in March 2011, reducing service hours by approximately 35 percent, including the elimination of 45 routes. The Port Authority's budget from the state is to be substantially reduced for 2011, and as chairperson Joan Ellenbogen noted, the Port Authority is legally required to adopt a balanced budget. Chairperson Guy Mattola stated that "Unfortunately, we are now at the point that all options have been exhausted...It is necessary to move forward with this service reduction plan recognizing the devastating consequences for riders and non-riders alike."
On December 13, 2010, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission approved a plan by governor Ed Rendell to allocate $45 million in temporary funding for the Port Authority to help reduce the magnitude of these service cuts. Many details of the emergency funding, including how long the Port Authority must make the $45 million last and exactly how many routes slated to be cut could be saved, were not settled by the end of 2010.
On March 27, 2011, a 15 percent service reduction went into force. Twenty nine routes were removed, thirty seven reduced, and a bus maintenance facility shut down
On September 2, 2012 a 35% reduction is scheduled; fares rose on July 1 to $2.50 in Zone 1.
In November 2013, the Pennsylvania legislature approved a long-awaited and hotly debated transportation bill, now known as Act 89. Act 89 provided dedicated funding to Port Authority, putting the agency on more solid financial footing.
Although Port Authority is part of the local fans' folklore, its off-beat imaging is more notorious. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s the bus fleet was very recognizable with its fleet of air-conditioned GM "Fishbowls" (from their 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1971 orders) sporting a white top with small red strip. Other noticeable features included side destination signs placed near the exit door and an unusual seating arrangement with one side facing forward and the other lining up to match the seating placed on the wheel well. PAT would continue ordering buses in that specification until 1995 when they ordered buses with both seating sides facing front except when on wheel wells. The side destination signs were moved immediately to the left of the front door starting with the 1998 Neoplan AN-460 (articulated bus) order. This continued with the Neoplan Metroliner order but skipped the Neoplan AN-440LF order in 1999. The 2003 order of Gillig Advantage low-floors and all subsequent orders have conformed with the side sign next to front door configuration. It is worth noting that the 1980 GM's RTS buses acquired were specified with the current side sign configuration.
By 1972 it entered what was dubbed by fans the "Mod" era, as buses were given flashy new paint schemes. Buses were painted with color at the front and rear, slanted to line up with the windows, and a large white portion in between.
In the 1980s, the classic 1960s white and red strip look was updated with a larger red strip accompanied by a black strip painted around the window area, while a white background covered most of the bus exterior. This color scheme was in existence for roughly 20 years on the Flxible and NovaBus 'classics' series, although these buses were later repainted and refurbished into the uniform color livery up until their retirements.
In 1998 Port Authority rebranded itself as "Ride Gold" to coincide with its 35th anniversary. Today, some of Port Authority's bus fleet is in various colors with a splatter of gold "G"s adorning the exterior.
More recently, Port Authority's buses have included various transportation-related words and phrases repeated across the exterior, such as the words "move", "go" "ride" or "connect", combinations of "rockin'" and "rollin'", "ziggin'" and "zaggin'", or "here" and "there". Newer articulated buses feature Burma-Shave-style poetry such as "Parking got you down / Don't make Faces / Hop on the bus / There's plenty of spaces", "This big shiny bus / Is really no riddle / But it sure is odd / How it bends in the middle", "Getting to work / Is no trouble / When you ride / The daily double", "There's the church / There's the steeple / And here's the bus / With all the people", and "If you're tired of all the traffic / And could use an assist / Hop aboard a bus / With a bit of a twist".
On September 21, 2006, the Port Authority announced that it was retiring the "Ride Gold" campaign and that the bus and light rail fleet will follow the standard design and uniform colors of its Gillig bus fleet. The reason was the system's decision to return to a back-to-basics approach and to save costs on wholesale repainting and refurbishing. Even its updated website has dropped the gold "G" and is now going with the simple "PORT AUTHORITY" fonts, which will now be used on the entire fleet. This includes the aforementioned poetry on their more recent articulated buses. Some buses and light rail vehicles have been repainted with the standard "Port Authority" font.
On April 29, 2016, following several months of public hearings, the Port Authority's board of directors voted unanimously to implement sweeping changes to the fare system in 2017, including a decrease in fares for some riders for the first time in over 35 years. The new fare system eliminated the current zone-based fare collection in favor of a flat $2.50 single-ride fare for all riders who pay via ConnectCard. Riders between Zones 1 and 2 used to pay a single-ride fare of $3.75, one of the highest intra-urban fares in the country. Although doing so will result in approximately $4 million in lost revenue for the agency, it hopes to recoup at least some of the losses by implementing a 25-cent surcharge for riders paying with cash, eliminating paper transfer tickets for cash fares and establishing a $2 surcharge for new or replacement ConnectCard purchases. These changes are also intended to discourage paying fares with cash in favor of increased ConnectCard use, which the agency also says will speed up trip times.
The agency also voted to abolish the "pay enter/pay leave" fare collection policy in favor of all riders simply paying their fare upon entering the bus regardless of destination, similar to the method used on most other American transit agencies. This change will mean the elimination of the free fare zone in downtown Pittsburgh, although free rides on the "T" between Downtown and the North Shore will continue. For light-rail rides outside these stops, cash fares will no longer be accepted, and the agency will implement a proof of payment system, with riders required to tap their ConnectCards at kiosks on station platforms prior to boarding and Port Authority police officers performing random checks on board to ensure payment.
Port Authority used a fare structure based on four main zones (1, 1A, and 2). The downtown area is an unnumbered Free Fare Zone, established in 1985 to encourage transit use in downtown and reduce stop "dwell" times (the amount of time a transit vehicle must remain stopped for passengers to board or alight). All rides within the downtown zone are free, at all times on the light rail system (called the "T") and until 7 p.m. on buses, seven days a week. Originally the free-fare zone applied only until 7 p.m. on both buses and light rail, but it was expanded to 24 hours on the latter in 1989.
Zone 1 is the zone closest to downtown Pittsburgh, and Zone 2 comprises the outer half of Allegheny County and all stops outside of Allegheny County. A few routes cross briefly into neighboring counties.
When passing from one zone to another, the fare increases. The 1A zone is an exception, a "transition zone" from Zone 1 to Zone 2, and if traveling from Zone 1 to 1A or from 2 to 1A, one pays no increase in fare. See this fare structure table for specific zone boundaries and definitions.
The system usually uses an "outbound" pay system for daytime transit to and from downtown. Fare is paid when boarding on the "outbound" part of the route. For example, if the bus or light rail vehicle is headed towards downtown, the rider pays when boarding; if the bus or light rail vehicle is headed out of downtown, the rider pays upon exiting. This applies only on buses that serve downtown; on most that do not serve downtown, the rider pays upon entry. During the evening, on buses serving downtown, the method changes on many routes to "pay when boarding" (also known as "pay enter"), due to the possibility of riders trying to avoid paying the fare. In combination with the downtown Free Fare Zone, this fare collection system permits boarding to take place via all doors in downtown (except evenings), greatly reducing loading delays in the part of the system with the heaviest concentration of transit routes and passenger boarding per stop.
However, this system also creates a noticeable problem with people bunching up near the front of the bus during times when customers pay on exit. People are reluctant to move to the rear of the bus for fear they will have difficulty getting out, as only the front door is used as both entry and exit during these times. This issue is exacerbated by overcrowding and drivers who leave the stop too quickly, resulting in much yelling and pushing as people try to get off. This also leads to drivers unnecessarily skipping pickups, as they believe their bus is too full to allow further people to board when it is just crowded in the front.
The Port Authority sells non-discounted single-use tickets, and discounted weekly, monthly and annual passes. Each carries a small discount over earlier time-based passes and is valid for an unlimited number of trips/transfers in the specified zone(s) for that time period. For example, for a zone 1 pass the cost of a weekly is the equivalent of 9.5 one-way trips, a monthly is equivalent to 34 trips, and an annual is equivalent to 377 trips. An annual pass is a 12-month subscription to monthly passes, which can be either mailed or picked up at the Downtown Service Center on Smithfield Street.
Students and staff of several colleges in the area, most notably Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, ride the bus at a discounted yearly rate: students pay a fee each semester to the Port Authority.
Port Authority installed new fareboxes on all buses in 2011, and has converted to a smart card fare collection system marketed as the "ConnectCard" starting in early 2012. The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University use the new farebox system by equipping their ID cards with a chip the farebox can scan and recognize. Because individuals affiliated with the Universities ride for "free," the system serves only to authenticate the validity of the ID card, and no fares are calculated or assessed.
The Port Authority operates a 26-mile (42 km) light rail system called "The T", from downtown subway to neighborhoods and suburbs south of the city on a surface light rail right-of-way.
The system comprises three lines:Red Line
Blue Line – Library
Blue Line – South Hills Village
Pittsburgh's mass transit system also includes two unique funiculars (called "inclines" locally) from the top of Mt Washington to its base along the Monongahela River, just across from Downtown Pittsburgh.
Both the Duquesne Incline and the Monongahela Incline have stations along Grandview Avenue atop Mt Washington and in the Station Square area at the base.
The Duquesne Incline is owned by the Port Authority, the Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline operates it as a non-profit organization. It has the original cars and the original stations.
The Port Authority operates 700 buses, as of April 2014, in Allegheny County, and also service extends slightly into neighboring Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Some bus routes operate seven days a week between 4:00 am and 2:00 am, but many routes have more restricted hours, or do not operate on weekends, or on Sundays and holidays.
In May 2001 the fleet installed its first bike racks, with 75 buses installing 2 bike racks on 8 routes on May 17, 2001. In September 2011, the last remaining buses received bike racks.
In December 1977 Port Authority unveiled its first dedicated busway, the 4.3-mile South Busway, which combined bus and light rail routes into an efficient and quicker connection between downtown Pittsburgh and the South Hills area. The Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, which used express routes to connect downtown with nearby east side communities like Swissvale, Wilkinsburg and Homewood followed in February 1983. On Sunday, September 10, 2000 Port Authority opened its West Busway, which provides service from downtown Pittsburgh to Carnegie. In 2003, the East Busway was expanded by a few miles to Swissvale and Rankin.
On July 22, 2011, the Port Authority approved spending at least $1 million, including $837,993 in federal funding and $209,498 in county money, to study developing a rapid bus line from Downtown to the Oakland section.
Bus rapid transit or BRT provides bus service that is intended to resemble light rail, with higher frequency of service, fewer stops and, in several cities, pre-ticketing options or buses that look like trains or trolleys. The mode has had mixed success depending on jurisdiction, with some transportation planners citing a service-dilution pattern that they call Bus rapid transit creep.
The study should take up to 18 months to be completed and will use no money from the Port Authority's operating budget.Cummins ISL
Notes:5201, 5203, 5204, 5205, 5231, 5234, 5236, 5329 and 5330 are repowered by the Cummins ISL and are EPA-10 compliant
3101-3125 are the last Neoplan USA buses to be manufactured.
6107 and 6145 are equipped with a leather driver's seat.
This list featured buses models that were the most used on PAT routes. The companies listed are in the order that they made their debut in the PAT fleet.
Port Authority operates more than 60 park-and-ride lots in Allegheny County. It owns 66 transit bridges, 11 highway bridges and four tunnels.
Under the Port Authority-sponsored ACCESS program, a private contractor provides door-to-door service to elderly and disabled passengers throughout the county, seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight. Reservations are placed one day in advance. The ACCESS program is noted as one of the first, most innovative and best in the nation.
Between 2001 and 2004 the Port Authority worked with the local community group Ground Zero to create and operate the "Ultra Violet Loop"; known to some as the "party bus", the UV Loop bus was special service operated on Friday and Saturday nights through the early morning, serving city nightlife and university centers. The UV Loop bus was part of special evaluative service supported in part by local foundations & businesses. While it was well regarded in the abstract, it never achieved the ridership and consistent service needed to continue without external support. The "Ultra Violet Loop" name is a play on the Pittsburgh/Allegheny County Belt System.
The Port Authority is currently in the midst of a major service overhaul called the Transit Development Plan in which the fare structure is to be changed, routing and timing are to be altered to make service simpler, and route number conventions will be altered.
In the spring of 2005, several county leaders of the metro area pushed for an overhaul of the Port Authority into a more metropolitan transit agency; plans were drawn up for the Port Authority to absorb the nine counties surrounding the city and more effectively and efficiently manage route systems over the region.
A "loop" connecting Oakland, the universities, the Pittsburgh Technology Center and a new Hazelwood development was proposed in 2007.
The Transit Development Plan (TDP) was approved by the Board of Directors on October 23, 2009, and seeks vast and dramatic improvements in service. Many of the changes are drastic, and virtually every aspect of the system is to be modified in some way. A major rationale behind the service redesign is to better meet demand due to population shifts in the area. The Transit Development Plan is also expected to make service easier to understand, eliminate route variants, consolidate stops, run buses and light rail vehicles on clockface headways, and reduce the number of non-revenue bus and light rail trips.
The fare system is to be simplified. The previous system of (not counting the downtown Free Fare Zone) three main zones and two transition zones was simplified into two fare-paying zones with the downtown Free Fare Zone left intact. The 2B transition zone and Zone Three merged into Zone Two on January 1, 2010. Furthermore, the Port Authority plans on introducing smart cards for fare payment in the near future. This plan is proceeding; a pilot plan, testing the smart cards with the new fareboxes used by Port Authority employees was completed successfully. University of Pittsburgh students began using their smart card university IDs August 1, 2011. The Port Authority will begin transitioning customers using its regular fare products to smart cards in early 2012. A slight fare increase was the first change undertaken as a part of the TDP, as the Zone Two fare increased by fifteen cents and transfers increased by quarter on January 1, 2010; however, the Zone One fare remained at $2.
The route system will be radically altered by the TDP. The number of active routes will be reduced from 186 routes to 124 routes; however, transit service levels of will remain the same or increase for the vast majority of riders under the plan. Many routes that duplicate service will be consolidated, and system-wide service levels will actually increase by eight percent.
The current numbering conventions are also slated to change dramatically. Light rail lines, bus routes that travel solely on one of the busways, and bus routes that spend part of their route on a busway are to be renumbered according to a color-coded system. Light rail lines via Beechview are to be part of the Red Line, via Overbrook part of the Blue Line, and via Allentown part of the Brown Line. All routes using the East Busway are to get a purple designation, the West Busway a green designation, the South Busway a yellow designation, and the Interstate 279 HOV lane an orange designation. For example, the AV Allegheny Valley Flyer, which spends part of its route on the East Busway, is re-designated the P10 Allegheny Valley (with the P standing for purple). Local bus routes, almost always designated by a number followed by a letter, are to become numbers, but the counterclockwise numbering system is to be retained. For example, the 51C Carrick is to be designated the 51 Carrick.
Another key service change that may be implemented is bus rapid transit through Oakland and several other regions apart from its three current busways. The agency seeks to purchase specialized buses that run on natural gas, have off-vehicle fare collection, and traffic signal priority to reduce travel times. The agency is currently seeking around $80 million of financial aid from the Federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to help fund the new bus rapid transit system.
Several capital expansions have been proposed from various sources. The construction of a light rail line from Oakland to Pittsburgh International Airport has been proposed by County Executive Dan Onorato and Congressman Mike Doyle, projected to cost about $3.5 billion. Doyle has recently submitted a request to the Federal government to study the feasibility of the project. Studies for a commuter rail line from downtown to Arnold along the right-of-way of the Allegheny Valley Railroad and from downtown to Greensburg along the right-of-way of Norfolk Southern railroad are also underway. According to the feasibility study, it is unclear whether the Port Authority, the Westmoreland County Transit Authority, or an as-yet created independent agency would operate the railway. Congressman Jason Altmire has been a key proponent of the commuter rail project.
Since 2007, the Port Authority cut annual expenses by $52 million and raised revenues by $14 million to help alleviate a $472 million gap in the state transportation budget. In late 2010, the Port Authority's board approved service cuts of 35% (45 routes) and fare increases. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission approved a plan by Governor Ed Rendell to allocate $45 million for the Authority to help reduce service cuts to only 15% on March 27, 2011. Since Governor Tom Corbett's 2012 budget, the Port Authority has renewed plans to cut service by 35% if the state fails to help with a projected $64 million budget deficit.