Updated: 2:40 p.m.
“Change is coming,” warn the destination signs on the front of Port Authority buses.
“Change is coming,” repeat the signs near the front doors.
“Change is coming,” the signs on the back of the buses display, for good measure.
In addition to being a little freaked out, you may be getting the idea that some sort of change is coming.
On Jan. 1, 2017, Port Authority will change how much it charges bus riders and how it collects fares. The transit agency will be at the Wood Street station from 2 to 6 p.m. today through Thursday and again next week to answer questions.
Can’t make that? Here’s a rundown of what to expect.
Starting Jan. 1, riders with a ConnectCard will pay a flat fare of $2.50. That’s all riders, even those outside of the city. A transfer will cost $1.
Riders with cash will pay $2.75 for each ride — no more paper transfers. (More on that below.)
Monthly passes for 2017 will cost $97.50, and weekly passes will cost $25. Port Authority will also sell an unlimited day pass for $7. (You can check out this fact sheet for more details.)
When riders pay
Currently, riders pay either when they enter or exit depending on where the bus is going and what time of day it is.
It is confusing.
Next year, all riders — regardless of where they are going — will pay when they enter. Port Authority is asking riders to exit through the back door.
Downtown free zone
It’s going away.
The light rail free zone, on the other hand, will remain.
Finding a ConnectCard
Clearly, it works out best for riders to get a ConnectCard under the new system.
At the moment, ConnectCards are free. Starting Jan. 1, Port Authority will charge $1 for the reloadable cards. (The agency originally considered charging $5.)
The cards are currently available at Giant Eagle locations, as well as a handful of other retail stores and at Port Authority’s Downtown Service Center. Port Authority will start selling ConnectCards through its 62 vending machines beginning Jan. 1. There are plans to add more machines “by the middle of next year,” per a spokesperson.
Here’s Port Authority’s map of where you can pick up your card:
Goodwill will also begin selling the cards in January, according to David Tobiczyk, vice president of marketing and development. The Lawrenceville location will sell the cards “by the first half of January,” he said.
“If all works well, we’ll roll out to a total of 17 Allegheny County area stores soon afterward, with all stores online by the end of March,” Tobiczyk said.
Port Authority actually had to get special permission to start selling the cards at Goodwill, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Under its agreement with Port Authority, Giant Eagle has a right to turn down any commercial ConnectCard outlet within 2 square miles of its stores to avoid competition.
Riders can add money to their ConnectCards at the retail locations where they can purchase one and through the 62 machines; they can also add value online.
What the changes mean for riders
Molly Nichols of Pittsburghers for Public Transit said her group appreciates several things Port Authority has done, including the implementation of one fare, expanding ConnectCard sales to Goodwill and this winter’s education campaign.
But she remains concerned about the elimination of paper transfers as Port Authority’s “current infrastructure to purchase and reload is not adequate,” she told The Incline.
There are people who can’t afford weekly or monthly passes and who need to update their cards regularly when they have cash available, she said. Online reloading doesn’t help low-income riders who may not have internet access or who may not have a bank account or credit card.
Nichols said Port Authority could help alleviate these issues by adding ConnectCard machines along bus routes frequented by customers with these challenges.
Otherwise, she said, low-income riders who use cash will be penalized by the new system, especially if they need to transfer buses.
“A transfer is an inconvenience,” she said, “and you’re paying even more for that.”
This post has been updated to reflect a change in where and when Port Authority will talk about the changes.