‘Bus lines are life lines’…Some county residents are eligible for discounted bus fares starting June 3

CHERYL STEPHENS, with Pittsburghers for Public Transit, supports the move to the discounted fare rates for SNAP recipients beginning June 3. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)

More than 130,000 residents in Allegheny County currently receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, and starting June 3, the New Pittsburgh Courier has learned they’ll all be able to ride Pittsburgh Regional Transit buses, light rail and the Mon Incline for half the fare, it was announced at a news conference at the East Busway’s Wilkinsburg station, May 20.

The announcement was cheered by members of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, which, on a hot, Monday afternoon, boasted a number of African American members, such as Cheryl Stephens, William Anderson, Teaira Collins and Sherai Richardson.

SHERAI RICHARDSON WAS PART OF THE PILOT PROGRAM THAT SHOWED COUNTY OFFICIALS THAT A DISCOUNTED FARE PROGRAM WOULD BE BENEFICIAL TO SNAP RECIPIENTS IN ALLEGHENY COUNTY. (PHOTOS BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)

The name of the program is, “Allegheny GO,” a joint venture between Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT), Allegheny County, and the county’s Department of Human Services. After hearing from thousands of residents, including the many who are in organizations that comprise the Fair Fares Coalition, the county commissioned a pilot program to determine the effectiveness of a discounted fare program for SNAP recipients. The results were clear —make a discounted fare program permanent.

“Transit is a human right and transit is a civil right,” said PRT’s CEO, Katherine Kelleman, “and this is just getting you connected to your rights.”

For a good number of African Americans in Allegheny County, public transportation use is the norm. It really came to light during the first year of the COVID pandemic, when many white-collar workers no longer used the “T” service from the South Hills to Downtown for work, but the “T” and buses were filled with “front-line,” “essential” workers that, oftentimes, were African American.

A 2020 study commissioned by a University of Virginia economist, John McLaren, found that, nationwide, the disproportionate use of public transportation by African Americans in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic was partly to blame for the disproportionate number of African Americans who died from the virus. 

Thus, while the “Allegheny GO” program will help anyone with SNAP benefits beginning June 3, it will, no doubt, be of direct assistance to a good number of African Americans in the county.

PITTSBURGH REGIONAL TRANSIT CEO KATHERINE KELLEMAN SPEAKS AT THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF DISCOUNTED FARES FOR SNAP RECIPIENTS, MAY 20.

“The high cost of transit fares forces you to make impossible choices to decide between going to grocery stores or to the doctor’s, or to go on a job interview or take the kids out to programs after school,” voiced Collins, who also sits on the PPT board. “That’s why affordable transit is a food justice issue and a health care justice issue, an economic justice issue and an education justice issue. That’s why more than 60 organizations joined the Fair Fares Coalition because bus lines are life lines.”

She made sure to say that last line again: “Bus lines are life lines.”

The bus line became a life line for Richardson, the now-Hill District resident who wasn’t afraid to tell her story that a series of circumstances left her without any of her personal possessions as she moved from Texas to Pittsburgh in 2022. She found shelter through the East End Cooperative Ministry, in East Liberty, but then soon faced the reality of the bus fare prices, which now sit at no less than $2.75 per ride if paying with cash.

“I needed to use the public bus system to meet essential necessities such as locate permanent residency, get to my doctor’s appointments, find clothing and make my social services appointments on the dates that were expected of me,” Richardson said.

Richardson was part of the pilot program and was able to ride the buses at a 50 percent discount, as she was also enrolled in the SNAP benefits program, which gives individuals and families the ability to receive monetary assistance for groceries based off their yearly income.

Richardson, standing proud, said that the discounted fare program allowed her to “obtain permanent residency and to afford to travel back and forth to the food pantry where I was volunteering when I was residing at the shelter.”

Richardson also said she can “go to the gym regularly” and has obtained employment.

Beginning June 3, the county residents who are also on SNAP can download PRT’s “Ready2Ride” app from their mobile phone’s App store, and then visit www.discountedfares.alleghenycounty.us. On that website, residents can enter their information to apply for the discounted fare rates. The county DHS will receive the applications and then, after assuring that the resident is eligible, the resident will be able to purchase discounted fares within the PRT app.

As of now, the program is only open to those residents who have access to a smartphone. For those without a smartphone, PRT said it’s working to make the program available via its new smartcard when the card launches in 2025.

Erin Dalton, director of the Allegheny County DHS, said the program will cost $1.2 million for every 10,000 individuals who take advantage of the discounted fares. But she stressed there’s no monetary “cap.” The more residents that enroll in the program and use it, the better.

More information on the “Allegheny GO” program can be accessed by calling PRT at 412-442-2000.

“Providing reliable, affordable transportation options for working families is critical to our region’s economy,” said Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, at the May 20 news conference. “Our unemployment (rate) is at an all-time low and we have more job openings than we have job-seekers, so it is incumbent upon us as a government agency…to say, ‘how do we remove barriers for people to access these jobs.'”

Richardson, who has made her new home here in Pittsburgh, added: “Affordable transit fares don’t just give people a few extra dollars; it provides freedom of movement, it gives hope and vision for new possibilities in their lives.”

PITTSBURGHERS FOR PUBLIC TRANSIT BOARD MEMBER TEAIRA COLLINS

 

 

 

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