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The Port Authority of Allegheny County is planning some changes for the citizens of Pittsburgh. The plans include revamping its bus routes and replacing the existing fare collection system with “smart cards”. 

“This is one of the biggest changes Pittsburgh has seen since the Port Authority was founded”, said Peter Behrman, authority assistant general manager of service planning and development.

The authority’s planning and development committee approved a $33 million contract with Scheidt Bachmann USA Inc. on March 20, 2009 to proceed with the fare collection system according to Rick Snyder of the authority.

Eighty percent of the funding for the purchase and installation of 880 fare boxes and 4 million smart cards will be covered by federal money and 16.7 percent by the state. The county’s share of about $1.1 million is expected to be voted on by the Allegheny County Council on April 7.         

With the smart card system, the rider waves their plastic card in front of the reader as they enter a station or board a bus. The appropriate fare is then automatically deducted from their card.

The details on where smart cards can be purchased and loaded with money is still being worked out according to Judi McNeil, Communications Officer for the authority.

The smart card system is designed to simplify fare collection, making it easier for riders, while at the same time increasing revenue by making collections more accurate. This technology will also provide the agency with a wealth of information about ridership. This portion of the project is expected to start by late summer and be completed by the end of 2009.

The smart card contract is designed to permit regional transit systems in the outlying counties to opt in to the system, if they so choose, according to Steve Bland, authority CEO.

As for the Transit Development Plan (TDP) to overhaul 187 bus routes and 1600 bus stops, Port Authority officials had hoped to have board approval by May, but with its goal to “simplify the system and increase ridership in an efficient and cost effective way”, the new date for the vote has been moved back to September to allow for more public input, said Behrman.

A series of public hearings will begin sometime next month on three alternative options for the redesign of the current system that dates back around 50 years.  The public is being urged to post their input on the agencies web site tdp.portauthority.org, which also outlines the details of the work plan, analyses of each route, including ridership statistics among other things.

“All three concepts have a level of feeder service to varying degrees”, said McNeil.

Behrman says to expect small changes from September of 09 until September 2010, with big changes beginning in September 2010.

The Local Government Academy, an independent non-partisan organization promoting excellence in local government,located on Allegheny Avenue is sponsoring two “ listening sessions” titled “Connect 09: Port Authority Service Development Plan Update”, one in April in Churchill Borough and one in May in Avalon Borough, according to LaToya Barnes, Office Administrator for the academy.

In addition, the authority is planning “Presentations by Invitation”, an opportunity for local groups to hear presentations by the authority on the proposed changes. The first one is in the planning stages for sometime in late April or early May with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership according to Jim McAllister, Director of Strategic Planning for the Port-Authority.

An “Open House” is also in the planning stages to take place at the Omni William Penn Hotel sometime in late June. “We will have displays and stations to help people better understand the studies and alternatives of the new plan”, said McAllister.