At press time, the Port Authority of Allegheny County was expected to propose the elimination of fare zones as part of a plan to simplify and expedite the process of riding buses and light-rail cars.
Regardless of where riders travel, all fares will cost $2.50 when using a ConnectCard, the authority’s electronic-fare system (or $2.75 for cash fares). According to PAT’s demographic stats, a fourth of customers will save $1.75 per ride. The changes, if approved, would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. The plan was to be brought before the PAT board on Jan. 13.
“By eliminating the zones and keeping the base rate steady,” wrote PAT CEO Ellen McLean in an email, “we are protecting our most vulnerable customers while giving those who live farther away more incentive to use public transportation.”
While the change will eliminate the more expensive suburban fares, it will also do away with the Downtown free zone. PAT is also proposing eliminating paper transfers ($1 transfers will be available only for ConnectCard users, while cash riders will have to pay the $2.75 fare again). The Downtown-North Side free zone for the T will remain free thanks to private subsidies, according to PAT spokesperson Adam Brandolph.
A one-time fee of $2 for ConnectCards is also being proposed to start in 2017. Currently, ConnectCards can be obtained for free at the Downtown PAT service center and more than 70 retail outlets throughout the region.
To speed up stop times, PAT is proposing that all bus riders pay when boarding, and that all exits will be through the buses’ back doors. (Riders unable to use the back door can exit through the front.) For T riders, PAT is proposing an honor system starting on or after July 1, 2017, where riders outside the free zone will tap ConnectCards at receptacles either in car or on station platforms. PAT police will use portable validators to check whether riders have paid. T car riders will be able to enter any door.
Under the new fare system, PAT expects to lose as much as $4 million by 2018. But Brandolph says PAT believes ridership will increase due to cheaper, less confusing rides. A 60-day comment period, if approved, will open Feb. 1, and PAT’s board will decide on any changes at the end of April.