Maybe the Port Authority is Foundering Because Their Service Sucks?

Or maybe it’s just the one bus line that I ride regularly? I ride to Pitt every day on the 44U, the direct-to-oakland “university” route that runs to Bridgeville, but principally seems to serve Mt. Lebanon and Dormont. If the service on this line is any indication of the overall level of Port Authority bus service then it’s no wonder they can’t make any money.

I rode the 44U to Pitt as an undergrad in the late 80’s. When I started riding it again from Dormont in February of this year, I was astonished to learn that, with the exception of one extra afternoon run, the schedule is unchanged in 20 years! I can literally catch the bus at the exact same time as I did 20 years ago, and I often feel as if I’m riding on the same actual buses that I rode on 20 years ago. Ridership is obviously up — after all Oakland is a Keystone Innovation Zone and a key part of our regional revival, right? You’d think that would mean adding more trips and better service, right? Wrong! Well, okay, they added one extra afternoon trip, leaving Oakland at 4:35, but it barely accommodates the extra riders.

How do I loathe the 44U? Let me count the ways:

  • The buses are super crowded. The 4:05 and 4:35 outbound runs are always standing-room-only by the time they get to Carlow. I get on the bus early, but many at the hospitals are not so lucky. And let’s not even get started on the 7am inbound run. (The one that goes through Lebo at 7 and clears Dormont by 7:15)
  • They run shitty equipment. Some runs, like the jam-packed 5:05 outbound, get nice “suburban coaches” with comfortable, forward facing seats, but the rest of the runs get crap. On one 90 degree day this summer the air conditioning actually failed before we were half way to Dormont. What is this, Mexico? I felt bad for the folks who had to ride all the way to bridgeville in that sardine can.
  • They’re inconsistent. The 7am bus sometimes gets a coach and sometimes gets a regular 40-foot bus, despite being super crowded all the time. Even when they send a coach, riders who get on in the north part of dormont or in Brookline/Beechview often end up standing anyway. If they don’t send a coach, then it’s already standing-room-only by the time it reaches Dormont — meaning some riders have to stand for 40 minutes or more if traffic is heavy — and by the time it reaches Brookline, its unclear whether any more passengers can get on.
  • It’s slow during rush hour. Twice this week I missed the 7:07 stop at McFarland, so I caught the T at Dormont Junction, rode downtown and transferred to a 61 or 71 bus to Oakland. This only got me to Oakland about 10 minutes later than I would have had I caught the bus. (It would have been even faster if they’d get rid of those idiotic extra T stops along Broadway in Dormont/Beechview.) Subtract off 5 minutes because I was late getting started, and it turns out that transferring downtown is only 5 minutes slower than the direct bus to Oakland. That’s sad. The bus is really fast during off peak hours, but…
  • There’s no midday service. The last morning bus arrives in Oakland around 9:45 a.m. and the first afternoon bus doesn’t leave until 3:05.

I was almost ready to write all this off as the natural state of public transportation. Then I went back to Austin for my dissertation defense and spent a week riding Capital Metro’s awesome 982/983 express buses from the Pavilion Park-n-Ride in the NW suburbs 12 miles to campus and back every day. All the buses had coach seats with reading lights — some were actual highway coaches, others were 40-foot city buses outfitted with coach seats. Even off-peak, there were at least two buses per hour. They ran like clockwork. All the buses were cleaner than any Port Authority bus I’ve ever ridden. And the Park-n-Ride had free Wi-Fi.

The Port Authority needs to realize that if they want to increase ridership, they need to provide a service that people will actually want to use. When I drive, at least I know I’ll get a seat.


4 Responses to “Maybe the Port Authority is Foundering Because Their Service Sucks?”

  1. Dave Says:

    Interesting. A couple of weeks ago I rode the 44U with some Professor Chinbeard dude, and he had exactly the same complaints. Makes you wonder how many other riders feel that way.

  2. Michelle (perry) McDonald Says:

    A friend sent me a link to another article about leaving Pgh, but I snooped around and found this article. I left Pgh for school and never returned due to my extremely dysfunctional family in the ‘burgh. I do miss some things (Primanti’s, the O, Barefoot Serpants, Room to Move…, summer movies on the hill), and I have very nostalgic feelings about the 44U. When I was riding, just about the same time Jefferson was, and into the early 90s, it was like a family. There were about 15of us who spent the time on the bus getting wrapped up in each other’s lives. Once a quarter or so we’d all go to some bar in Dormont for happy hour. I was involved in a traffic accident trying to catch the U and the driver called for an ambulance and patrons ran off to assist me. The bus waited until I was safely carted off in an ambulance before leaving.

    I did make one lasting friendship that carried on outside of the bus world, and lasted until the distance between PA and MI became too great (well, that’s not really what happened but I won’t share someone else’s laundry here).

    So it saddens me a tad to here that things haven’t changed, but mostly it just feeds the nostalgia I feel for Pittsburgh. Admittedly that is just a coping mechanism for me, helps me gloss over all the reasons I left. I get weekly phone calls from relatives that serve the purpose of keeping me in west Michigan. My kids haven’t experienced public transportation yet. Grand Rapids has it but I live far enough out of GR that it doesn’t come here. When we are in town it’s for school field trips or bar-hopping.

    I do envision taking the kids for a ride on the T or a bus the next time we are in town. They are 8 and 9 so it will probably have no impact on them. Unless we ride the 44U and some of the people I rode with 15 years ago are still riding!

    I didn’t know Jefferson had returned to Pgh, but he has gone again, so…our paths are not destined to cross again anytime soon. I will be back for my 20th reunion (SLS, 88) and hope to squeeze in some of the things I do miss, and leave out most of the things I don’t miss, like family!

  3. Bellevue, WA: Just like back home, only not really. « The Q Function Says:

    […] especially like commuting by car, and the public transit options from Lebo to Oakland are just too unpleasant.  I’d probably choose Aspinwall instead. Posted in Pittsburgh, Seattle, […]

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Well it’s changed now. The bus doesn’t run after 5:30.

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