Port Authority: Driven to Make Pittsburgh a Greener City
by Karen Price
April 11, 2022
Anyone who’s been on the dance floor at a wedding during the last few decades might take one look at the bright blue Port Authority bus with “It’s electric!” painted smack in the middle and immediately think, “Boogie, woogie, woogie!”
The bus isn’t just traversing the city streets to prompt an earworm, of course. Port Authority now boasts eight electric vehicles in its fleet, all of which transport riders to their destinations while producing zero tailpipe emissions. Combined with reducing the number of cars on the road on a daily basis, these electric buses are a key component in providing more environmentally-friendly travel options in Pittsburgh.
“Public transit is inherently green,” said Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph. “What we inherently do is green from the start, and then any little change — or, in the case of an electric bus, a big change – gets us that much closer to a better environment.”
The first two electric buses entered the Port Authority fleet in 2019 as a pilot program. The initial route was the No. 88 which runs between the East Liberty garage and downtown. They wanted to make sure the buses could reliably handle Pittsburgh hills, Brandolph said, and Penn Avenue has enough of a prolonged grade that the route would put the vehicles to the test.
There were other concerns as well.
“We wanted to make sure they worked at night when you have to put the lights on and in the rain when you have to put the windshield wipers on,” Brandolph said. “Also in the summer when you have the air conditioning running and in winter when you have the heat running. We really wanted to put them through all the tests and we found they operated satisfactorily.”
Port Authority added six more buses in 2021 with plans to add another 15 in 2023. The new additions will all be 60-foot buses that have articulated midsections. The eight currently on the road are all 40-foot buses.
Technically, Brandolph said, the program is still considered a pilot. The only garage with charging stations is East Liberty, which means there are limitations on the routes the buses can take.
“We’re not able to immediately put them on just any route or any garage,” he said. "The goal in the future is to have charging capabilities at all our garages so that we can have electric vehicles dispersed throughout our service area.”
In addition to the eight fully electric buses, Port Authority also has 32 hybrid diesel-electric buses in the fleet. There are no plans to add more, however, as the goal is to eventually move toward a fully electric fleet, Brandolph said.
According to VisitPittsburgh.com stats, Port Authority serves about 230,000 riders every day including bus, light rail, incline and paratransit options. Pre-pandemic, Brandolph said, it was estimated that every bus could take between 20 to 50 cars off the road.
“If you’re replacing those cars with an electric bus, that is then so, so much more beneficial,” he said.