When Port Authority eliminated Betty Bickar's bus in 2011, her daily round-trip commute ballooned from 40 minutes to over three hours.
"The old bus used to stop in front of my house," explains the 67-year-old, who often leaves her Baldwin home at 4 a.m. to start a 6 a.m. shift at the South Side Giant Eagle. The journey requires her to walk about a mile to catch a bus that is often overcrowded — and she worries about how she would earn a living if she became physically unable to walk to her stop.
Bickar isn't alone. At a July 9 meeting in Baldwin Borough — a community of about 20,000, located 8 miles south of Downtown — about three dozen residents met to discuss their progress on a campaign, organized by Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT), to convince Port Authority to restore a version of the 50-Spencer.
That route was cut as part of a 15 percent service reduction in 2011 — an era marked by financial crisis at Port Authority and transit agencies across the state. Today, however, Port Authority is on firmer financial ground, thanks to a transit bill passed late last year that PAT says will wipe out hundreds of millions of projected deficits.
Some transit activists, community members and state political leaders say the new funding should give the agency enough room to bring some of the routes back — even in a limited capacity.
Legislators met with Port Authority before and after the transit bill was passed and "we indicated there ought to be some conversations about restoration of service," says state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill). "[Port Authority] expressed a willingness to look at restoring service to some of the routes that had been discontinued. [...] It would surprise me if they didn't consider it at all."
From Port Authority's perspective, though, that's not something the transit agency is in a position to seriously consider.
"We have a list a mile long of requests like that, and it's not just people who are showing up at the board meetings," says Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie, who did not provide cost estimates for running individual routes. "It would only take restoring a few routes before that money is maxed out."
Instead, Ritchie explains, the authority is focusing on "service enhancements" — like adding more buses on existing routes that are overcrowded, and rolling out real-time tracking of its 700-bus fleet.
State Rep. Dom Costa, a member of Port Authority's board, thinks the focus should be on route restoration, calling it his "primary concern."
While the Stanton Heights Democrat says the agency can't act as a "valet" that provides service to every household, he adds, "I think there's funding in the new budget that will allow us to look at some routes and restore them."
Molly Nichols, a community organizer for PPT, says about a dozen Baldwin community members recently met with Port Authority officials to talk about restoring service there — a meeting some residents said was "encouraging."
"They're working on enhancing existing service and what we've been asking is, ‘What about people who still don't have a bus?'" Nichols says, emphasizing that those enhancements represent costs that could be allocated to some limited service restoration.