Upgraded Fast, Frequent Routes Through the Strip District, Lawrenceville, and Beyond

    Those who live and work in the Strip District and throughout Allegheny County will soon be able to take advantage of upgrades to the Port Authority bus system—all meant to modernize and enhance the rider experience.

    In December, the Port Authority began to offer free Wi-Fi on more than 400 of its buses. The entire fleet will be equipped with free Wi-Fi within the next few months, according to Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph.

    All Wi-Fi-equipped vehicles will be marked with a sticker near the front doors. Riders simply need to pull up their device’s network settings and search for “PAAC WII” to connect. Riders are asked to accept the Port Authority’s terms and conditions before they can connect, but no sign-up or login is necessary.

    In addition, all Port Authority buses soon will be equipped with pay-by-smartphone technology, which will allow riders to pay their fares using a mobile application. By connecting the app to a credit card or bank account, riders will be able to prepay their fares before boarding the bus.

    “Using pay-by-phone technology, riders will be able to buy as many passes as they’d like, or even a monthly or annual pass, and use them immediately,” says Brandolph. “You’ll be able to buy your passes at the bus stop while you’re waiting for the bus to arrive.”

    The authority is installing the hardware associated with the mobile app on select buses, including the 91 Butler Street, which travels from Downtown through Aspinwall with stops on Liberty Avenue in the Strip and along Butler Street in Lawrenceville.

    The app monitoring system, known as a validator, will be tested by employees in the coming months. Brandolph says he expects the technology to be available for all riders by the end of 2020; until then, riders will still be able to use cash and prepaid ConnectCards to pay their fares.

    Strip Port Authority map

    Fast, Frequent Routes Through the Strip. Anyone who lives or works in the Strip knows that parking is at a premium on Smallman and Penn—especially during work hours or on the weekends when the markets are bustling. The Port Authority hopes that these upgrades will encourage more people to take advantage of public transit.

    While no buses travel directly on Smallman Street, there are bus stops every two or three blocks that run through the heart of the Strip on Penn and Liberty avenues, and into Lawrenceville via Butler Street. The Authority also encourages bicyclists to take advantage of public transportation; each bus is equipped with a front-mounted bike rack that can hold up to two bicycles.

    “There are five fast-and-frequent bus routes that travel directly through the Strip District and can get you to Downtown within five minutes, or to the North Shore or Lawrenceville within 15 minutes,” says Brandolph. “We can get you in and out of the city without ever having to pay for parking. It’s very convenient.”

    Community Input Encouraged. Driven by customer feedback, the Wi-Fi and pay-by-phone upgrades have been in development for several years, says Brandolph, pointing out that each new upgrade can take at least a year and a half to be implemented.

    “We’re constantly collecting customer input, and we receive about 1,500 requests per year,” he says, explaining that those requests can include anything from service changes to the need for improved technology.

    “We take a holistic approach to all of the requests we receive,” he says. “With every request, we ask ourselves whether it fits in with our long-term plans, and whether we have the money to make the change. We also have to ask ourselves if it’s an equitable change, or if it’s something that will benefit only those who can afford it.”

    Recognizing the value of community input to its operations, the Port Authority is hosting a series of public meetings to discuss its upcoming projects and programs. The meetings will be held at various locations throughout the Pittsburgh region. Dates and times can be found in the “Community Involvement” section of the Port Authority website (portauthority.org). Riders can also submit feedback by calling the authority at 412-442-2000 or on Twitter by following @pghtransit.

    Jennifer Brozak is a freelance writer from North Huntingdon who has a passion for all things Pittsburgh. She contributes to a variety of local and national outlets, and blogs about her family’s escapades at onecommittedmama.com.