However, they don’t have the excess of rail right of way to utilize in that area. Between downtown and Oakland, there is a huge amount of transit service, every three of four minutes during peak hours, but it gets stuck in traffic. “It’s slow, it stops every other block, that type of stuff,” says Bland. “We’re really looking at developing an on-street bus rapid transit situation, similar to what Cleveland did with the Euclid Avenue Corridor.”
With the streets in the region not being as wide as Euclid Avenue, Bland says they will be, “trying to figure out how to get that 20 gallons of water into a 5-gallon jug.”
Currently the Port Authority is doing about 18,000 trips in that corridor. With downtown and Oakland being built out, there really isn’t much vacant land for universities or hospitals to expand. Uptown, on the other hand, is underdeveloped, Bland explains. “There’s definitely potential if we can do a convenient, fast, reliable, easy-to-use transit connection between downtown and Oakland.The institutions have said, ‘Yeah, we need more space.’”
The Uptown neighborhood also did a neighborhood visioning study before the Port Authority even began looking at bus rapid transit. The neighborhood identified significantly upgraded transit as crucial to its future development. Bland says the Port Authority is working with about 30 stakeholder groups to advance this.
“We’re not looking at it as much as ‘Here’s a big project the Port Authority’s going to do to create bus rapid transit.’ I would say our approach is probably more organic, saying, ‘There’s a role for the Port Authority to play in delivering infrastructure and service to make that go, there’s a role the city of Pittsburgh has to play. And there’s a role for the institutional partners to play.’ As of now the project is in the alternative analysis phase and they expect that process to be completed right around the end of the year.
“One of the things we’ve always advocated as an advantage of bus rapid transit is we’ve always said we can do it incrementally,” explains Bland. “We can make incremental improvements.”
Another major project for the Port Authority right now is the upcoming ConnectCard smart card system. The prime contractor is Scheidt & Bachmann and the Port Authority is at the point now where all of the onboard equipment is in place and ticket vending machines are starting to be installed.
There are U-Pass agreements with three of the universities in the area. Essentially the universities pay a lump sum and then staff, students and faculty have universal access to free rides on the system. Coincidentally, at the same time the Port Authority was advancing its smart card planning process, the University of Pittsburgh was completely redoing its university ID system.
“Right now the University of Pittsburgh ID is a smart card that’s compatible with our system, so already we have the 40,000 students and faculty essentially tapping to board the system. In the last month, Carnegie Mellon University indicated that it is also moving in the same direction and will begin to pilot it next year.
“We’re right now in the process of piloting our various products internally,” Bland says. The Port Authority just entered into an agreement with the largest supermarket chain in the region, Giant Eagle, to host its point-of-sale terminals so people will be able to buy and re-value cards at those locations. Bland says they expect a full retail deployment of smart cards by early next year.
He says they’ve been talking to systems that have been through it to ensure a smooth transition. “The over-riding message is everybody spends a ton of time and a ton of money focusing on the technology; you need to focus on the marketing end and the sales end and the customer service end.”
Going along with that idea, there are a couple of things Bland says they have started to restructure internally. He said they heard from both Atlanta and Boston, “If you’re customer service function isn’t ready for this, it’s going to be a disaster.”
He says they outsourced their treasure function. “We knew because of the changes — we were installing 60-some ticket vending machines — we were going to have to significantly increase staff or we were going to have to think of a different way to do it.”