Pittsburgh: transit, yes, but is it rapid?

Passengers prepare to board a Port Authority light rail train at the North Side station, June 6, 2012. While I found the North Shore Connector’s design attractive and inviting during my visit four months ago, like a rider quoted in the attached Post-Gazette story I also found operating speeds over the new segment noticeably slow due to multiple signal stops along the $523.4 million extension.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, riders’ frustration has been mounting as service over the new North Shore Connector under the Allegheny River seems to be moving no faster than … well, the rest of Port Authority’s “T” system.

“Cars going from Wood Street to the new Allegheny Station on the North Side generally are making the trips quicker than the nine minutes that is allotted on printed schedules,” the paper reports of the extension, which opened in March. “But they go no faster than about 25 mph and slow to a near-stop or full stop at several signals.”

That may not be “a huge time-waster,” according to reporter Jon Schmitz, “but annoying to riders like Dan Zunko, who expected brisker service along the 1.2-mile extension that cost $523.4 million.” Zunko complained that his daily trip between North Side Station and Steel Plaza might include between three and five signal stops in each direction.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie explained how signalling on the new section offers “a greater level of safety.” While Port Authority is reviewing the entire LRT system to identify ways to improve speed and safety, “we don’t feel it’s worth compromising safety to get people from Downtown to the North Shore in 6-1/2 minutes rather than 7 minutes,” he told the newspaper.

Interestingly, the report goes on to recall how frustrations over the slow speed of LRT have dogged the system since it was modernized in the 1980s. One solution under consideration? Implementing proof-of-payment to eliminate long dwell times at stations due to pay-as-you-leave operation.

I have long been a fan of Pittsburgh and its transit system, but its arcane fare rules are a tradition whose demise is long overdue. Perhaps that has been a bigger time-waster than the 11 “little-used” stops eliminated in June.

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