PRT Proposes major changes to 61 and 71 lines

Construction is set to begin in June on the long-awaited Pittsburgh Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. Early versions of this project have been in the works since 2017. In 2020, Allegheny County Port Authority secured $100 million of federal funds to begin construction, and the project has since undergone numerous revisions in scope and budget.

In its current iteration, the BRT plan proposes a two-fold change to the 61, 71 and P3 lines (along with minor changes to other lines). The first and primary change is the construction of a BRT corridor along Forbes and Fifth avenues to better connect Oakland to Downtown. This plan will involve the construction of bus-only lanes, improved bus shelters, and improved bike infrastructure to increase mobility and decrease bus clustering along Forbes and Fifth avenue. The second element will involve a major re-routing of four bus routes that currently run through Oakland.

According to the proposed changes, the 61D, 71A, 71C and 71D lines will no longer run downtown. They will continue to service east-end neighborhoods, like Highland Park (71A), Wilkinsburg (71D and 71C), and East Liberty; however, they will no longer connect these neighborhoods to Downtown. These inbound routes of these four lines will instead turn around at Craft avenue (by Carlow University), which is where the proposed BRT corridor will begin. Passengers on these lines wishing to continue to Downtown will have to get off at Craft avenue and take one of the lines running along the BRT corridor (the 61A, 61B, 61D, 71B, or P3 lines).

Additionally, the outbound P3 line will terminate at Wilkinsburg, and no longer service the more distant neighborhoods of Hamnett, Rosslyn, or Swissvale. However, the inbound P3 will continue into Downtown along the BRT corridor, as opposed to terminating in Oakland as it currently does.

This has raised concerns, as it would require those traveling Downtown from these east-end neighborhoods to pay a second fare to board a BRT bus.

In accordance with Title VI, PRT conducted an analysis of how these proposed changes would impact low-income and minority communities in Pittsburgh. Their report concludes that the changes to all four of these lines "might have a disproportionate burden on the low-income population" in the areas they service. The report has mixed conclusions about the P3 changes, claiming that it would negatively impact the neighborhoods cut off, but would have a positive impact by connecting the P3 to downtown.

However, the neighborhoods that will be cut off by the shortened routes are already underserved by Pittsburgh transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, the increased demand for parking at the Wilkinsburg station will take up additional real estate in the neighborhood, and further complicate the commutes of residents living in the east-end of Pittsburgh.

Rationales for the change include reducing the number of bus lines that run through Downtown, addressing the bus driver shortage (by allowing the altered lines to run their routes more frequently), and decreasing the travel time between Oakland and Downtown to accommodate the high population of college students in Oakland.

Public hearings for these changes were held on January 18th, but PRT is accepting public comments via letters or an online forum until February 1st.