Minor change in bus route is goal for health center
June 13, 2017
Peter Kaufmann, a certified application counselor for the Hilltop Community Healthcare Center, returned to Allentown to address the challenges with and gain support in improving transportation to the center. Joining him were Molly Nichols, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) and Chandana Cherukualli, community organizer for the group.
“When we started communicating to the community, we heard many times, ‘it’s difficult to reach you guys,’” Mr. Kaufmann began. “So we looked into it. Yes, it is.”
Earlier in the day he, along with the Pittsburghers for Public Transit officials, walked the route from the South Hills Junction up to the health center in the former South Hills High School.
“And I’m exhausted,” he said. “I can’t imagine having a disability or for children with a backpack in winter weather walking up that hill.”
Mr. Kaufmann said they contacted PPT hoping to gain their support to change a Port Authority bus route to come closer to the center, or even pass through the parking lot.
Ms. Cherukualli said the Port Authority has developed a more transparent formal process to allow residents to ask for changes in service. Each year the authority issues guidelines and explains why changes in service were made.
Minor and major requests are considered. A major request would be something like a new transit line or a change in more than 30 percent of a bus route. Major requests must be submitted by the end of December with decisions made in May and take effect in September.
Major requests are considered on the basis of four factors: Efficiency, effectiveness, equity and utilization of peak vehicles.
A minor request entails a change in a route of less than 30 percent. Minor requests are considered on a quarterly basis and are judged less stringently.
Service change requests may be made through the Port Authority’s website, http://www.portauthority.org.
Ms. Nichols said a consideration for changes is also that during rush hour the Port Authority is stretched pretty thin, with every bus available on the road.
Although the agency is stretched, she said they have been receptive to adjusting a route when the public gets behind the change.
Specifically concerning the health center, she said when looking at a map, the 43 Bailey comes close at a couple of blocks away along with the South Busway and the South Hills Junction connected by steps. At eight months pregnant, Ms. Nichols said she walked the steps that day but noted people with mobility challenges or small children would have a difficult journey up or down the steps.
She conceded it could be difficult to get the Port Authority to change the route because the 43 Bailey already comes within a couple of blocks and traffic planners say don’t do “door to door service.”
If one person asks for a change, they’ll consider it, Ms. Nichols added, but if a group does it, they’re a chance they’ll more on it more quickly. A coordinated request with the Hilltop Community Health Center could be an option before making the campaign public.
Ms. Nichols said there is also interest in getting a bus shelter at the corner of Warrington and Beltzhoover where people could wait for the 43 Bailey. Since Lamar Advertising has the contract with the Port Authority for bus shelters, the first request for a new shelter is made with the company.
If Lamar declines, she said to then go to the Port Authority to ask for one of their shelters.
While various transportation options are being considered, Mr. Kaufmann said the center’s staff is being trained by the Traveler’s Aid to provide free bus tickets to qualified patients for their doctor’s visits. He said often patients were paying $12 to $15 roundtrip in bus fare when traveling with children.
As a final note, Ms. Nichols said PPT is opposing the Port Authority’s proposed proof of payment enforcement on the T. With the new system, people will pay before they get on the T using an “honor system.” However, there will be Port Authority police checking if people paid their fare.
She said the PPT would like to see the system be a civil process instead of the criminal process as the policy is written now.
“Instead, if you didn’t pay your fare and potentially facing a judge and then jail time, you would get a bill and then a debt collector comes and it’s a civil process. We’re proposing that kind of system,” she said. They also want more clarity on what the relationship would look like between the Port Authority with immigration and customs enforcement.
He began by saying he hadn’t heard back from the District Attorney’s Office about funding the project so they are exploring other options. The plan now is to go business to business to solicit toward the purchase of cameras.
Officer Auvil prepared a brochure to take to businesses explaining the benefits of a virtual block watch, how the use of cameras has reduced crime in neighborhoods and increased safety. He has also designed a survey businesses will be asked, but not required, to fill out with contact names and information along with best times for a service technician to visit to review recorded video.
He is working with MetaMesh, an Allentown company, on developing the camera system. The police will only have access to the cameras by request after a crime has been committed.
Officer Auvil said since the cameras are located at individual businesses, there will be no one person able to view all the cameras at the same time. Existing cameras will also be part of the block watch.
He envisions the block watch initially as being two of the three blocks of the Warrington business district and utilizing as many as 18 cameras.
Officer Auvil said he would like to examine the crime statistics for six months before the cameras go up and for six months after. In Carrick on Brownsville Road where the first virtual block watch was established, crime dropped 63 percent after the cameras were installed.
He emphasized the cameras would all be private and not operated by the police.
“If we were to put up 14 city pole cams, I would have 20 pages of city ordinances I would have to follow,” he said. “If they are your cameras, it’s your footage.”
In the initial two blocks of the planned virtual block watch, there are already 11 cameras. Officer Auvil will be talking to the owners to see if the cameras are functional and to determine their range of view. The information will be used to determine placement of additional cameras for full coverage.