LaKeisha Bighum had finished her shift at the Allegheny County Jail only a few hours before she testified to the Port Authority board Friday morning.
But Bighum, a single mom of two and resident of a Section 8 community in West Mifflin, said it was important for her to show up to urge the board to restore bus service to her neighborhood.
A handful of residents from Mifflin Estates testified to the board about the effects of losing bus service in 2009: paying $40 a weekend just to get to work; walking more than a mile along a busy road without a sidewalk to get to the nearest bus stop; feeling isolated in what they’ve dubbed “the island.”
Bighum said she’s been fortunate to have a job for the past two years. But she works the night shift and doesn’t have the money to get her daughter to daycare in the morning.
“We can’t afford to move because we can’t prosper,” Bighum said. “We can’t keep jobs.”
What happened to service?
To dig its way out of a funding crisis, Port Authority has cut dozens of bus routes over the past several years. The regional transit authority has restored some of that service through a process that takes into account efficiency, effectiveness and equity. That last one is key to communities like Mifflin Estates, which is home to low-income residents and seniors who don’t have access to vehicles.
Anne Marie Rodriguez, who’s lived at Mifflin Estates since 2001, told the board she shares a car with her teen daughter and mother, who has a disability.
If the car isn’t available, Rodriguez’s daughter takes an $8 Uber ride to get to work. Her daughter, she said, only makes $8.25 an hour.
“If there was a bus, at least I’d know she’s safe,” Rodriguez said.
Where the streets have no sidewalks
For residents of Mifflin Estates who want to catch the 53 bus to take the hour-long ride Downtown, they must walk more than a mile to a stop on Camp Hollow Road. There aren’t sidewalks on any of the roads they must travel to reach the closest stop.
“To get a bus you have to pay somebody just to go to a bus stop,” said Maria Green, who told the board she is undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer.
Starr Magwood said she and her two children “don’t have a way to connect with outside world.” Magwood said her son has autism, which means they have to travel to Oakland regularly for appointments.
She likes her son’s local school, Clara Barton Elementary, for its special education offerings, but she described living at Mifflin Estates without a car to like living on an island.
“Public transportation is something everyone needs,” she said.
What happens next
Pittsburghers for Public Transit is helping organize the Mifflin Estates campaign. With help from the activist group, residents of Garfield and Penn Hills successfully campaigned to have some bus service restored as of this September.
Port Authority is collecting requests for service now, which will be considered this spring.
“If any services were even able to be considered, they wouldn’t be implemented until September,” said Board Chair Robert Hurley, who is also the director of Allegheny County economic development. The Mifflin Estates residents “had great comments,” he added.
“It’s unfortunate. There are probably 90 other such requests seriously for service.”