Consistency necessary with bus fare payments

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Port Authority budget cuts are all over the news right now. What they should really focus on is being more consistent with their drivers and the public about when we’re supposed to pay.

I moved to Pittsburgh last summer and had a chance to get acclimated to the system. If you’re heading toward Downtown, pay when you get on the bus. If you’re heading away from Downtown, pay when you get off, unless it’s rush hour (5–7 p.m.), and then you always pay when you get off.

If only it were that easy. Factoring time and direction isn’t very simple, but you would think that at least once you learn it, you can get around Pittsburgh with ease. I have had a number of bus experiences, though, where the driver wanted me to pay at an unexpected time and then got aggravated with me for not knowing.

The more I think about how to pay, the more uncertain I get. I’ve heard that since there is a second zone further from Downtown with more expensive fare, you pay when you get off heading out of town to help them know how much to charge you.

Perhaps that rule only applies to buses that actually go to Zone 2. Since I ride the 71B home, which sometimes stops in Highland Park in Zone 1 and sometimes goes all the way to Waterworks Mall in Zone 2, that might explain why I’m randomly asked to pay when I get on. But sometimes I ride the 71D part-way, which goes toward Hamilton, but I’m still required to pay when I get off.

If it were just my confusion I had to deal with, I wouldn’t have a problem. But the apparent inconsistencies are compounded by the bus drivers’ surly attitudes toward students. At the beginning of the year, their contempt was palpable.

While it doesn’t excuse their behavior, I admit that a lot of us had no idea how to ride the bus. Even now, though, they often throw their hands over the payment machine in exasperation and growl, “Pay when you get off.”

With the student population creating a high turnover of bus riders, you would think that Port Authority would have payment education down pat. However, the Port Authority seems to have taken the opposite course of enduring pesky students until they leave. In response, students endure Port Authority, silently resenting being treated disrespectfully and reinforcing negative relations.

When budget cuts do take effect later this year, one certain consequence is that buses will be even more crowded.
The Port Authority could help passengers and bus drivers if it was consistent and helpful in applying the rules for payment.