Courtesy stock.xchng
Courtesy stock.xchng

Last Monday, the Port Authority held its first forum discussion about the possibility of bringing rapid bus transit to Pittsburgh.  If it does develop a rapid bus plan, it’s likely the first routes to convert to the new form of service will be the 61 and 71 series that travel down the Forbes and Fifth avenues corridor.

The basic idea of rapid bus is fewer stops, less time spent waiting at the bus stop, off-bus fare collections and priority bus lanes and traffic signals to get buses through traffic more quickly.  According to a study commissioned by the Port Authority, the implementation of rapid bus service in other cities always came with an increase in ridership.

So, although it might cost the Port Authority a pretty penny right now, it would probably pay off in the long run.  Of course, Port Authority is only talking about a rapid bus program–it’s not a definite and they have no specifics planned.

Another major hallmark of rapid bus is distinctive stations and vehicles that set the service apart from normal bus service and make it more noticeable and easily recognizable.  Some common differences include nicer stations with real-time bus arrival information, distinct logos and different paint jobs on the buses themselves.

If the Port Authority decides to develop a rapid bus system, it has to look at many factors.  How much does it want to spend?  How many rapid bus lines will it implement?  Will it implement them quickly or over time?  How fancy will they get with stations?

The obvious question is: How can Port Authority be worried about rapid bus service when its threatening to cut so much of its existing services (35 percent)?

The answer is two-fold.  First, the rapid bus discussion is part of the Transit ’09 plan that was developed and is in the process of being implemented (which includes the re-naming and streamlining of many routes).  Transit ’09 began before the state’s transportation budget crisis left the Port Authority with a large budget gap for 2011.

The second part is: “We think that this is the kind of thing we need to do to improve our system,” said Port Authority Spokesperson Jim Ritchie.

For more information about the rapid bus system and conversation, check out the Port Authority’s website here.