Deal in works to renew free ‘T’ fare zone

Photo by Jill Power | The Duquesne Duke. The Red Line trolley approaches Gateway station in Downtown Pittsburgh. Riding from Gateway to North Shore is free.

Photo by Jill Power | The Duquesne Duke. The Red Line trolley approaches Gateway station in Downtown Pittsburgh. Riding from Gateway to North Shore is free.

By Brittney Jackson | The Duquesne Duke

Several city organizations are tasked with renewing a contract by next March that will keep the Pittsburgh Light Rail free within the city.

The Steelers, Stadium Authority, Rivers Casino and Alco Parking have a contract with the Pittsburgh Port Authority to subsidize the Pittsburgh Light Rail, otherwise known as the T system, from the First Avenue station to Allegheny.

There are two separate agreements subsidizing the free fare zone from Downtown Pittsburgh to the two newest stations, the Allegheny station and the North Side station, according to Jim Richie, communications officer for the Pittsburgh Port Authority.

Richie said the initial terms of the agreement were for three years, with an additional one to two optional years parties can continue to subsidize the free fare zone. Since the agreement expires March 2015, Richie said the organizations can either extend the agreement, re-negotiate a new agreement or work with other parties to come to a different agreement.

Richie said ridership on the T system has increased after the opening of the Allegheny and North Side Stations. The average weekday ridership increased from 24,651 people in May 2011 to 28,944 people in May 2014.

Richie said the Port Authority has already reached out to some of the sponsors about the free fare zone renewal.

“We had a very favorable response in talking with the sponsors that are in place today in wanting to pursue something with us going forward,” Richie said. .

Mary Conturo, executive director of Stadium Authority, said the Stadium Authority, which owns various North Shore parking garages and lots, began subsidizing the T system in spring 2012. At the time, she thought the T would be a great resource to relieve congestion because people wouldn’t have to park their cars in the city.

The Stadium Authority Board of Directors is responsible for deciding whether or not to continue subsidizing the T system. There has been no discussion between the Stadium and Port Authority about renewing the contract.

However, Conturo said the free T zone Downtown is a “great benefit.”

“We’re very supportive of the T continuing to be free in Downtown and will be sitting down with the Port Authority to discuss this further,” Conturo said.

The Stadium Authority has not set a date to negotiate with the Port Authority, according to Conturo.

Conturo said she believes subsidizing the T system Downtown connects the business center to the North Shore, gives people access to restaurants Downtown and reduces congestion.

The Steelers are in full support of a new contract, according to Burt Lauten, communications coordinator.

“The North Shore Connector has been very successful, and it continues to be very popular both on game days and on other days,” Lauten said in an e-mail. “We look forward to having conversations.”

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