Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My vision for a regional transit system -- the final installment, part one

For now, this is going to be the final installment of my vision for a regional transit system for the Greater Pittsburgh region.  After reading some of the latest discussion posts in the Pittsburgh development thread in touching off on this subject, I recalled an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review which discussed the potential of merging several Western Pennsylvania transit agencies into one large regional system to better serve Pittsburgh and its countryside in a similar fashion Philadelphia is served by Southeast PA Transit Authority (SEPTA).

Given the article dated February 23 of this year, perhaps my vision could be used as a conceptual idea of what Pittsburgh's transit system could look like.  As of right now Pittsburgh, given its rather fragmented transit network, does not seem as large of a metro area as indicated by the US Census Bureau.  Westmoreland, Butler, Beaver, and Washington Counties are all part of the metropolitan area, but they all have their own transit agencies apart from Port Authority of Allegheny County.  Coming out to the Philadelphia region, we have SEPTA serving all four suburban PA counties of the Philadelphia region, with SEPTA regional rail extending into Mercer County, NJ, and Newcastle County, DE.

To me, Western Pennsylvania's transit network is very fragmented, and yet some members of the general public seem to frown upon the idea of merging the agencies ("No transit merger").  In my opinion, a larger transit agency probably has better chances of securing more state and Federal funds for future projects as opposed to smaller agencies.  Not to mention, several areas within the metropolitan area are isolated; there is no transit link between Butler and Cranberry, and regional links between Pittsburgh and outlying counties are inadequate.  A system that is more regional rather than localized will:
  • Improve chances for funding from state and Federal agencies to improve the network.
  • Greatly improve overall access throughout the region and allow for chances at improved or increased access for the future.
  • Connect more people with their jobs, activities, and each other.
  • Enhance the region's livability through improved transit access.
One final goal of a more regional system is to mix a variety of transit modes catering to a broader range of potential users.  Currently, Port Authority primarily uses buses to move the bulk of Pittsburgh's residents. Parts of the region are served by the "T," Pittsburgh's light rail system, but this system is located in just Downtown and the South Hills and only caters to a small fraction of Pittsburgh's metropolitan area.  With a more diverse regional network, the larger transit system:
  • Will serve a wider range of transit users regardless of social class; more people will be willing to use public transit if other modes rather than buses are employed.
  • More adequately and efficiently move larger masses of people from place to place.
  • Increase the value of some suburban areas, boosting the potential for economic growth in some of the more established suburban commercial centers (i.e. Greensburg, Washington), or enhancing more urban development in places like Cranberry or along the airport corridor.