A pilot program set to rollout mid-November will extend reduced bus fares to a selection of SNAP-eligible adults living in Allegheny County.
Officials say the program, led by the Department of Human Services, will measure whether discounted transit rates help low-income residents connect to resources and get to where they need to go. If the program is successful it may be continued and expanded.
“We know that where people live, work, shop or receive healthcare are not always the same. The cost of transportation can be a barrier to taking advantage of opportunities or accessing services,” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in a press release. “It’s one of the biggest needs we hear. Our goal is to find ways to help the most vulnerable in our community connect with the resources they need to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities.”
According to the release, the pilot will last 12 months and will enroll adults between the ages of 18 and 64. Those who receive fare discounts from an employer, university, or other program are not eligible, and the pilot could turn into a permanent program in late 2023. The county says more information will be available at the end of next month.
“Making human services more accessible is one of our top priorities,” says DHS Director Erin Dalton. “We expect that this program will go a long way in helping people get to services, medical appointments, jobs, or healthy food while allowing them to spend their money on other necessities.”
Local economic justice advocates leading the Fair Fares for a Full Recovery coalition — Just Harvest, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, and UrbanKind — say they have long pushed for transit fare relief for low-income Pittsburgh residents and welcome this pilot.
“For years, members of our coalition, along with other advocates, transit riders, and community members, have been urging Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT, formerly Port Authority of Allegheny County) to provide fare relief for low-income households,” reads a joint statement by Laura Chu Wiens, executive director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, and Karlin Lamberto, interim executive director of Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. “In the Pittsburgh region, PRT fares fall heaviest on low-income households, who are the most reliant on public transit and the highest likelihood of paying the full cash fare for every trip. As such, we are excited to see this substantial step forward in providing much-needed fare relief.”
The coalition stresses the importance of transit access, calling it a "critical human need."
“This pilot is the first step towards affordable public transit, a critical human need that, if met, would unlock access to healthy food, health care, child care, employment, and all of civic life. A long-term, zero-fare program for all SNAP households will ensure freedom of movement, economic opportunity, and investment in underserved areas, while strengthening the county’s transit system as a whole,” reads the joint statement.
The Fair Fares coalition urges the transit agency to encourage the human services department to turn the pilot into a permanent program, writing, “PRT must also contribute to the reduced-fare pilot program’s success and long-term financial viability, rather than relying on ACDHS to bear its entire cost. At a minimum, PRT must allow DHS the same bulk fare rate that the universities and PPS have negotiated for their constituents.”
PRT CEO Katharine Kelleman says the organization looks forward to supporting the pilot effort.
“We are thrilled to see Allegheny County invest in those who rely most on public transportation and look forward to working with them to make meaningful use of the data collected," says Kelleman.