PA: Allegheny County unveils reduced public transit fare program for low-income riders

May 23, 2024
Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, along with Pittsburgh Regional Transit and the county Department of Human Services, announced the launch of the "Allegheny Go" program, which will offer half-off fares for those on SNAP.

May 20—Local officials on Monday unveiled a new program that will slash public transit fares for eligible low-income residents.

Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, along with Pittsburgh Regional Transit and the county Department of Human Services, announced the launch of the "Allegheny Go" program, which will offer half-off fares for those on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Currently, there are more than 130,000 county residents eligible for reduced fares through the program, which is slated to go into effect on June 3.

"This is just one of the many programs we were excited to launch in my first term as county executive," Ms. Innamorato said.

According to the "All In Allegheny" survey that the county completed earlier this year, affordable and reliable transit has shown to be a top priority for county residents, Ms. Innamorato said.

She also said accessible public transit is critical to the region's economy.

"Our unemployment is at an all-time low and we have more job openings than we have job-seekers," Ms. Innamorato said. "So it's incumbent on us as a government agency, as the county, to say 'How do we remove barriers for people to access those jobs?'"

The origin of the program dates back to late 2022, when the county launched a pilot program to address transportation inequality in the area.

More than 9,000 adults, representing a total 14,480 people including eligible family members, participated in the study, which showed those who received halved fares were more likely to use public transit.

Erin Dalton, director of Allegheny County DHS, said the pilot program highlighted the impact reduced fares for low-income residents could have on the community when those who participated used public transit 1.6 times more.

"[ DHS] has the hard job of picking how we use our resources for the people that are in crisis right in front of us today and really wanting to invest in people avoiding crisis and being able to thrive in their communities," Ms. Dalton said. "Anytime... we are able to reduce the burdens of poverty and put money in people's pockets, we want to do that. This is an example of that."

Ms. Dalton said the program is expected to cost an estimated $1.2 million for each 10,000 eligible riders who use it.

She also said those eligible for the program only need a smart phone and can apply by downloading the PRT Ready2Ride app before submitting their information on the county website.

Sherai Richardson, 61, of the Hill District, said the program greatly impacted her life after she enrolled in the pilot in 2022.

Ms. Richardson, now a member of the Pittsburghers for Public Transit advocacy group, said she moved to Pittsburgh from Texas in early 2022 after losing all her possessions in a fire, rendering her homeless.

It became financially difficult to get to and from her appointments to find permanent housing, doctors visits, and meetings with social services groups, she said.

"I was very grateful for the county's pilot program because I couldn't have met any of my needs and deadlines without them," Ms. Richardson said.

She is now employed and is able to attend the gym regularly while saving up for her own home.

"It may not be long before I no longer need to receive benefits anymore, and I'm ok with that," she said.

Ultimately, the county is still looking into expanding the program to offer free fares for eligible residents instead of halved fares.

"Passing a low-income fare policy is just the first step," said Teaira Collins, a Pittsburghers for Public Transit and Pittsburgh Food Policy Council board member. "We will also continue to push for the successful negotiations and for the funding to transit to a fully zero-fare program for low-income riders."

For now, PRT CEO Katharine Kelleman said the half-off fare program was the county's best bet for assisting the largest number of low-income riders because making fares completely free would cost double the funding.

"From our viewpoint, this was the way to help the maximum number of people with the benefit," she said.

Ultimately, Ms. Kelleman said achieving a free fare program for low-income residents would take collaboration due to state-mandated quotas the transit agency is expected to collect in fares.

"We have to work with our friends in the legislature," she said.


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