UPDATE: Port Authority issues temporary social distancing policies for bus and light rail | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

UPDATE: Port Authority issues temporary social distancing policies for bus and light rail

click to enlarge Port Authority buses drive through Downtown Pittsburgh on Mon., March 23. - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Port Authority buses drive through Downtown Pittsburgh on Mon., March 23.
As of today, March 25, Port Authority of Allegheny County is changing its boarding and fare-collection policies in light of the spread of coronavirus.

Bus riders will now board and exit only through the rear doors of buses, as a way to keep proper six-feet social distancing from bus drivers. Front door boarding will still be used, but only for passengers who need the bus to be lowered, to use the ramp, or require priority seating.

“We are committed to the health and well-being of everyone in our community, and it is our belief that this small measure will go a long way,” said Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman in a press release. “While we continue to discourage anyone from going out who doesn’t have to, those who still need to are encouraged to use proper hygiene and maintain your distance from each other.”

With most bus riders now skipping the front door, where the fareboxes are located, riders will now only need to show their ConnectCard or other fare product as they board through the rear doors. Cash fares will no longer be collected on buses. 
Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph recognizes that many bus riders, like those who pay in cash or have money stored on ConnectCards, will essentially get free rides while under this coronavirus policy.

“We are prioritizing the health safety and well-being of our operators and passengers over the fare revenue at this time,” says Brandolph.

However, light-rail riders will continue to pay fares, with cash or ConnectCard, at onboard or off-board fareboxes. Brandolph says that light-rail operators are enclosed in a plastic enclosure that limits contact with light-rail riders. Onboard light-rail fareboxes are also farther away from drivers, as compared to onboard bus fareboxes.

Transit advocates at Pittsburghers for Public Transit are hailing the decision. PPT has gathered signatures from more than 250 riders calling on this change, which is in line with demands from the International Amalgamated Transit Union.

“Port Authority has demonstrated its commitment to its workers and the public through these important precautionary measures, even as ridership has dropped precipitously in recent weeks while residents have been sheltering in place,” reads a statement from PPT.
Due to coronavirus closures, Port Authority saw a 50% drop in ridership in recent weeks. This led the agency to cut service by 25% in response to falling funding. Port Authority receives about 25% of its revenue from fare collection.

On March 18, Port Authority enacted a temporary Social Distancing Policy on its fleet of buses, light rails, and inclines. The policy is in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread across the globe and is transferred relatively easily by human-to-human contact and through infected surfaces.

Port Authority will be ensuring transit riders will keep at least six feet apart while on-board vehicles, and priority seating areas will remain unused in the upright position unless needed.

One of the most effective ways to stop the spread of coronavirus is to drastically reduce interactions with other people. As of today, Allegheny County has reported 88 positive coronavirus cases and 13 of those people have been hospitalized. Two people have died in Allegheny County due to coronavirus.

“Port Authority continues to encourage customers use common sense hygiene practices to limit the spread of germs and illness, like washing your hands or using hand sanitizer immediately after riding the bus or light rail vehicle; changing your seat if you notice someone near you who appears to be sick; sitting down if possible so you can avoid holding on to poles and straps; and staying home if you are sick,” reads a press release.

According to the Port Authority, the temporary policies will be in place until Pennsylvania and Allegheny County lift their states of emergency.

A social distancing policy for Port Authority comes a time when it might actually be easier to implement. Brandolph says there has been a “significant decrease” in ridership since the announced coronavirus closures. He says the authority has also had to spend significantly more on cleaning buses and light-rail cars much more frequently, and paying staff overtime.

PPT is calling on federal officials to provide emergency funding to transit agencies like the Port Authority to help them stem revenue losses and maintain service for essential workers who rely on transit.
Reports indicate that the U.S. Senate will pass a multi-trillion dollar funding bill that includes $25 billion for public transit agencies across the country. Transit Center, a public-transit foundation based in New York, estimates that $25 billion in funding should help agencies out for several months, but likely not the entire pandemic, depending on how long it lasts.

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