Have you ever wondered how your bus route got its number?
Why is it called the 91? The O12? The Y45? The 71B?
The numbers may seem arbitrary, but some of our route numbers are rooted in a method that dates back to the days of the Pittsburgh Railways streetcar system of the 1880s.
Routes that start with a letter indicate the “line” that bus is using.
G - GREEN line. These routes use the West Busway.
O - ORANGE line. These routes use the I-279 HOV lanes.
P - PURPLE line. These routes use the East Busway.
Y - YELLOW line. These routes use the South Busway.
You can sometimes see these line colors depicted in our maps in addition to our more familiar Red and Blue light rail lines.
Routes that end with a letter are usually variations of the main route. For example, the 61A, 61B, 61C and 61D all follow similar paths out of Downtown, but take riders to different places. The same is true with the 87s, which serves Stanton Heights, and the 87m, which serves Morningside. Not all variants have these letters, though, like the 91, some of which serve RIDC Park in O'Hara while others service the nearby VA hospital.
So what about the numbers?
The bus route numbers are best explained visually. The numbering system replicates a counter-clockwise dial ranging from 1-99. The number of the route generally relates to the outbound direction starting with Route 1, at the north bank of the Allegheny River and the ending with the 91, which travels (for the most part) along the south bank of the Allegheny River.
With these numbers in mind, you can generally get an understanding of the geographic coverage of the bus route.
The last piece of the puzzle relates to the last digit in the route number.
We now know both the 51, 57 and 58 head in same basic area of the county, but the last number can have meaning as well.
This process has changed over time, so not all of our routes follow the method, but routes were initially numbered so:
Routes ending in a 1 or 6 operate along key corridors.
Routes ending in a 2 or 7 are local routes.
Routes ending in a 3 or 8 are express routes.
Routes ending in a 4 or 9 are cross-city routes that do not terminate Downtown.
This document, dated April 23, 1964, spells out how bus routes were to be numbered. Port Authority was founded on March 1, 1964.
The numbering system has changed significantly over the years, and many have undergone through quite a few iterations. The names of some routes are exactly the same as they were more than 100 years ago, while names of other routes are new within the past few years.
No matter the number of your route, we hope you enjoy riding the bus and find learning about the history as fun as we do.
Above is an example of Bus Rapid Transit in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Downtown-Oakland-East End corridor has plenty of public transportation, with more than a dozen routes traversing its streets daily.
But while the service in the corridor serving the region's two largest employment centers is plentiful, it isn't optimal. It's challenged by traffic, signal timing and other issues often resulting in “bunching” -- or several buses arriving at a stop at once -- and high demand, leading to overcrowding. (Pittsburgh Bus Bunching h/t Mark Egge)
Allegheny County and Port Authority leaders believe Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) could be one solution.
BRT, as its name implies, provides fast, frequent transit service along major corridors, sometimes using special buses, and offering upgraded amenities to provide frequent service and a better public transit experience.
While the goal of rapid transit, such as BRT and LRT (light rail transit), first and foremost is to improve the experience and usefulness of a transportation network for thousands, the outcome isn't just higher-quality transit; rapid transit can also impact quality of life.
Sure, the frequency, speed, and reliability of rapid transit can attract residents and jobs to communities. It can support the kind of walkable urban development that provides convenience and affordability of being able to access necessities without owning a car. But it can also attract investment in neighborhoods and raise property values.
In addition to Allegheny County, Port Authority has partnered with the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority to ensure a strong community planning foundation for its transit efforts.
A significant way they have done this is by supporting the Uptown EcoInnovation District, a community-led vision for Uptown and West Oakland neighborhoods that includes resident-input on how high-capacity transit best serves the neighborhoods.
The Uptown EcoInnovation District, which is supported by an Federal Transit Administration pilot program grant for transit-oriented development planning, seeks to combine the “EcoDistrict” and “Innovation District” models - national concepts being applied in other cities - to create a holistic plan for the future of Uptown. Included in this comprehensive planning effort is a consideration of multimodal transportation, of which public transit is a component. Neighborhood residents have been instrumental in identifying where bus-only lanes (which would support BRT) could work on their streets.
By coalescing around this idea that the effort shouldn’t be just an opportunity for improved transit, but also one to implement the city’s Complete Streets policy, the BRT corridor will be designed with pedestrians and bicyclists in mind, as well as including those who ride a bus or drive a car.
In order to implement such a complex and intensive street redesign, funds will be needed for infrastructure improvements. That is why the project is following the prescribed process to be eligible for federal funding.
Now, the time is ripe for renewed attention to the technical aspects of the transit options.
To that end, Port Authority’s Board recently approved an agreement with CDM Smith, Inc. (CDMS) for project management and engineering services.
CDMS will be responsible for working with Port Authority’s other consultant on this project, Parsons Brinkerhoff, Inc. (PB), as well as consultants for the City of Pittsburgh, to complete all planning and engineering steps required by the FTA. These steps, including environmental review, community engagement, and engineering drawings, are required before the project can be considered for federal funding.
The purpose of the BRT planning study is to determine which combination of BRT features will facilitate the transit experience that’s desired in this corridor. It will also consider how transit options will support economic development and community revitalization within the communities.
As the consultants make their recommendations for what BRT may look like, the project will be brought back to the public for discussion. Speaking on behalf of our project partners, we at Port Authority are looking forward to the next steps, which will include additional community input.
We've had several riders ask why the value they load onto their ConnectCard via our website can take up to 72 hours to become available.
This sometimes is followed up with a comparison to Starbucks, which allows users to load money onto their card and makes it available almost immediately.
When you load money onto your Starbucks card, your credit card is charged and the money is added to your account. When your friendly barista swipes your card, the register connects to Starbucks' network, checks the balance, deducts the purchase amount from your card, and credits the store in which you purchased your latte or Frappuccino. In this case, your balance resides on Starbucks' network.
Our system works the opposite way: Your balance resides on the card.
When you make a purchase through our online self-service web portal, we charge your credit card, create an "action item" that is sent to all of our equipment, which must be picked up by your card.
Stationary equipment like ticket kiosks, validators and machines they have at stores like Giant Eagle download these action items once a day, seven days a week, but the fareboxes on our vehicles -- because we do not connect to our network every time a card is tapped on a vehicle -- only download the action items when they're taken back to the garage at night.
So, if everything is updated once a day, why do you sometimes have to wait up to 72 hours?
Consider this example: Bus 1234 completes its final run of the week at 9:45 p.m. on Friday, goes to the garage and downloads the action items that are waiting. You go online at 10 p.m. and load $20 onto your ConnectCard. The action item is created and sent out at 11 p.m.
Come Monday morning, you board bus 1234 and the farebox tells you that you have insufficient funds. This is because not all of our buses operate on weekends, and the farebox for bus 1234 hasn't been updated since before you loaded the value onto your card.
You can "push" the updated balance to your card by tapping it at a kiosk or at the Downtown Service Center. The screen will show you your new balance before you even walk away so you can board your bus with confidence that you'll have value on it to pay for your ride.
We rolled out the first of about 85 new wayfinding signs in the Downtown area earlier this year.
The new signs provide riders with more information than ever before: most of them have at least one (some have two) information panels that show how frequent the bus will serve that particular stop and the operating times of those buses. Other signs have the information panels, but also feature a black-and-white digital display that shows realtime bus GPS information and generally work the same way several third-party mobile apps or our TrueTime website does.
There also are signs that have what we call "lollipops."
Like in the picture above (that's actually a scaled-down prototype we have in our office), the lollipop is a round sign at the top of the pole with a letter inside.
We've had several riders ask: "What's up with the letter at the top of the signs?"
The letter corresponds with our station maps, which group together bus routes that pick up at the same location. Although the route you're looking for most likely picks up at a few different places Downtown, the location displayed on the map corresponds with the closest stop to the station.
For example, if you're looking at the station map at the Wood Street Station, and you're trying to get to the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Point Breeze, you'd look at the map under "Neighborhoods," locate Point Breeze, and see that Point Breeze corresponds with the letter "A" on the map. In this case, "A" is just up the street at Sixth and Wood.
Once you arrive at Sixth and Wood, you'll know you're in the right location because of the large "A" at the top of the sign.
You can then look for route information and bus frequency on the panel at the stop.
As you might have guessed, the lollipops are likely more helpful for riders who are unfamiliar with the system or are visiting Pittsburgh and are not regular Port Authority riders.
It's much easier for a doorman or concierge at a Downtown hotel to tell a guest to "go to the X at the end of the street" to find the bus that'll take them to their destination than to know every bus route or be familiar with every stop.
Call it a game, call it street-level transit planning, call it whatever you like. But this is pretty cool.
According to CityLab, Brooklyn-based electric engineer and transportation enthusiast Jason Wright recently created a website called "Brand New Subway" that lets users design and arrange their own subway system using New York City's infrastructure.
Want to see the subway loop around the island of Manhattan? It may cost $8 a ride and your average weekday ridership may be less than MTA's current 5 million, but you can test it out for yourself and see.
Although we don't have the resources at Port Authority to do something like this on our own, we're sure there are some people out there who have the technical know-how and the time to make something similar for Allegheny County's transit system. Our GIS data is available for free.