Dec. 28—Low-income transit riders could see permanent relief in fares in Allegheny County as local officials look to expand a successful pilot program.
Allegheny County Rich Fitzgerald announced last week that the county has reached an agreement with Pittsburgh Regional Transit to fund a program that provides discounted transit fares to residents on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps.
A pilot program that ran for 12 months starting in December 2022 saw nearly 15,000 people participate, including more than 9,500 adults and about 5,000 children. The pilot doled out free monthly Pittsburgh Regional Transit passes, discounted fare passes for half-off rides and ConnectCards preloaded with $10 to people on SNAP.
County officials said preliminary findings from the pilot showed that, on average, the 50% discounts resulted in a fourfold increase in ridership compared to those who did not receive a discount. Those with free fares doubled their ridership compared to those who saw a 50% discount.
"We know that transportation is one of the biggest needs for those in our community seeking to take advantage of employment opportunities or accessing services," Fitzgerald said. "Through this pilot, we are able to see the impact that discounted public transportation fares have on these individuals and families, and just as importantly, can see the importance of meeting residents' needs in this way."
The county said participants reported cost savings on public transportation and a reduced likelihood of facing challenges in commuting to work thanks to the pilot. Discounted fares apply to all Pittsburgh Regional Transit vehicles, including buses, light rail and inclines.
The proposed permanent program would be eligible to Allegheny County residents between the ages of 6 to 64 who are receiving SNAP benefits. The Allegheny County Department of Human Services will fund the program, and officials said it could benefit nearly 134,000 people, including more than 80,000 living within walking distance of transit stations and bus stops.
The Pittsburgh Regional Transit board will need to take action on the proposal. The authority's CEO Katharine Kelleman said she supports the program and said the pilot "clearly shows a need for the program."
Local advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit said it is pleased with plans to extend the program and is hopeful it can be expanded to provide free transit fares for those with SNAP.
"I have chronic health issues, and being a beneficiary of the yearlong DHS zero-fare pilot program has ensured that I can make my doctors' appointments and be healthier, get groceries, get to work and meet my family's needs," said Tameeka Jones Cuff, a mother of four who participated in the pilot program. "It's been a life-saver."
Ryan Deto is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ryan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
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