On one side of town, tourists and young professionals head downtown on light rail: clean, air-conditioned, fast. If there’s a problem with service, the city diverts buses to help.
On the other side of town, workers wait at bus stops. The buses that carry them to work come less and less frequently, thanks to service cuts. Drivers struggle to get through their routes in less time.
Both scenarios are part of a promising trend: transit ridership is at its highest since 1956, with 10.7 million trips in 2013, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
This is despite widespread cuts to bus and rail service—and rising fares. The 2008 economic crisis started the pinch, but federal and local officials have continued to squeeze.
In Pittsburgh, for example, bus riders are still feeling the cuts begun during the crisis, while the city’s seen a boost in light rail, which caters to tourists and people with cars.
In 2011 the transit authority cut its budget by 15 percent, eliminating 29 bus routes. It laid off 180 workers and reduced hours for more. The cuts continued the following year, and the region lost tens of thousands of bus riders. Some switched to cars, if they had one, or carpooling. Others walk now.
“We have whole segments of our community that don’t have any transit at all,” driver Mike Harms said. In neighborhoods where service was slashed, “people have to walk a mile to a bus stop.”