“I wanted to make my community a better place.” That is how Katharine Eagan Kelleman, CEO of the Pittsburgh Port Authority, began the Transit Discussion presentation on the second afternoon of the Inter-Regional Visit. Kelleman has an impressive track record and experience in improving public transit in various regions including, Dallas, Baltimore, and Tampa. Though she is less than 6 months at the helm of the Pittsburgh Port Authority she has big plans for improving the face of public transportation and infused her talk with passion and strategy.
Vastly different than Hampton Roads’ Port Authority, Pittsburgh’s “Port” does not involve ships. The Port Authority is strictly public transit to include the cities 83 fleet vehicles, light rail system and inclines, which were the original Pittsburgh public transit of 1870. Pittsburgh’s streets are teeming with public buses and stops connect a vast network of the surrounding 10 counties, that make up the Allegheny region. “Everything that is amazing in your city is useless if you can’t get to it or can’t afford to get to it,” Kelleman said. “Transit is an equity provider and the more you can connect your region, the more transit can be the engine that gets the economy going.”
Kelleman described transit as both a construction and economic development project. Referencing the light rail project in Dallas, Kelleman said, “The completion of a light rail system brought a billion dollars’ worth of development in less than a decade to the region.” From a workforce perspective Kelleman asked the business leaders in the room to think about how many times an employee has had car trouble or was unable to find a way in to work. “If you have bus stops, you have a workforce. In Pittsburgh, we pay to get you into the city, once you are downtown all the fares are free. If you want to drive in and pay to park it’s $19.00 minimum. Free parking in a city is death to transit.”
Changing the face, connotations and generalities of bus transit and other public transportation, must begin by investing in it. “Diversity is so important. If we don’t look like our community, how can we serve our community? When we don’t invest in transit, it comes across as substandard. We can’t fund it like it’s only going to be used as a last resort.”
Part of Kelleman’s goals for the next fiscal year for the Port Authority will be focusing on effective marketing and messaging to drive public transportation. All of Pittsburgh’s attractions are within walking distance to public transportation and the goal is to have the outlying counties see it as a viable commuter option. This is the reason parking is so high. Pittsburgh initiated a special events transit push as a gateway to get first commuters using transit to come downtown, “Once they are here, they can begin to imagine the ease of the commute.”
Pittsburgh is reaping the benefits of their connectivity through public transit.