Pittsburgh needs free transit

You’ve seen Pittsburgh’s busses; the big, (usually) red bricks barreling down the streets, the route number glowing in amber, usually on time and only sometimes packed. With seating for 36 in the smaller busses and 63 in the larger, articulated models, each bus can replace dozens of toxic emissions-spewing cars. The Tartan staff can personally vouch for the efficacy of the Pittsburgh bus network, which takes us to campus, back home, and to any of the fascinating and unique neighborhoods in this diverse, storied city. For most Carnegie Mellon ID card holders, taking the bus anywhere in the network is as easy as tapping the emblem of university affiliation on the ConnectCard reader at the entrance, a little bloop, and then you’re on your way, at no extra cost. The same applies to most of the other universities in the city, with the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham University also offering free public transit with student IDs. No stress, no worries, no carrying around cash or reloading a ConnectCard. For non-students in Pittsburgh, however, the situation is less rosy. A single ride costs $2.75 (exact change only), and even if you invest in a ConnectCard, you’re still looking at $2.50 per bus ride. Weekly and monthly passes cost $25.00 and $97.50 respectively, with an annual pass coming in at a whopping $1,072.50. This is still cheaper than a car, but splashing out a grand to ride the sometimes-inconsistent bus for a year is a bitter pill for working people. Not only do Pittsburgh workers have to endure stagnant wages and potentially vindictive bosses, but also the extra little knife twist of paying for the privilege of getting to work.

There’s a simple solution to this injustice that would be a great way to increase ridership, reduce traffic, and help Pittsburgh meet the UN sustainability goals: make public transit free — for everyone. It's neither a radical idea, nor a new idea, nor a difficult idea to implement. About 100 cities in the world have free public transportation, including Dunkirk, France; Tallin, Estonia; and as of Dec. 2019, Kansas City, KS. Ridership hasn’t increased universally, but cities that have implemented free public transit have seen improvements from 3-85 percent increased ridership. With ridership in Pittsburgh already increasing, (bucking national trends), removing cost barriers to public transportation could lead even more residents to leave their cars in the driveway.

In addition to just making it cheaper to move around the city, fare-free public transit would signal a shift in the way Pittsburgh treats its poorest residents. According to the 2019 Port Authority factbook, over 40 percent of Allegheny County riders have annual household incomes below $35,000. The daily cost of rides is an implicit tax on lower-income Pittsburgh residents, the people least able to bear a cost to simply move around. A move to fare-free public transit would force the city to invest in the public transit network, and away from deadly and wasteful automobiles. Cars kill pedestrians, clog up the streets, and shred the fabric of public space, atomizing and alienating residents from each other. Cities should be designed around the public; the people traveling from place to place, going to work, to visit parks, to meet with friends, to attend events. Fare-free transit wouldn’t change everything, but it would be the first step in making Pittsburgh a city for everyone, not just the ones with cash.