How to hack Pittsburgh public transit

The planes, trains and automobiles edition

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

Like any sizable city worth its salt, Pittsburgh is home to a sprawling public transportation system. And like any transportation system worth mentioning, there are tricks and tips to using it most effectively.

In this guide, we look at some of the rules of the road (or rails) and the ways novices and natives alike can make Pittsburgh’s public transportation system work for them.

“The T”

The basics: Pittsburgh’s T is a 26.2-mile light rail system that runs from the North Shore through Downtown and into Pittsburgh’s southern neighborhoods and parts of the South Hills. It’s like New York’s subway system, only, uh, a lot smaller and with fewer discarded chicken bones and coffee cups per square foot. Also, some think “T” stands for trolley, though Port Authority says that isn’t the case.

When and where it works: The T has three active lines: the Red Line, Blue Line-Library and Blue Line-South Hills Village. Pittsburgh’s Light Rail is the successor system to the streetcar network formerly operated by Pittsburgh Railways, the oldest portions of which date back to the early 1900s, KDKA-TV reports. The current system operates most hours of the day.

How much it costs: $2.75 per ride without a ConnectCard and $2.50 with one. (More on ConnectCards later.) Free for children under 5 with a fare-paying adult. Travel between Downtown and the North Shore is free for everyone. And while there have been questions in recent years about the future of the free-fare zone, Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph told The Incline this week, “The free zone for our light rail system is not going anywhere.” That seems pretty definitive to us.

The map:

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Courtesy Port Authority

Tips and tricks: ConnectCards are not sold at every stop, so have cash ready just in case. Credit cards are not accepted on trains. Transfers are $1 with a ConnectCard. Transfers are not available with cash. Riders paying with cash must pay another full fare. Sorry.

Find the nearest station and routes using your smartphone’s built-in navigation tool, the same you use when driving. Just select “transit” as opposed to walking or driving directions. You can also plan your route by using the Port Authority website’s handy Trip Planner feature. Track departure times by using the Port Authority’s True Time feature, a must-have for any Steel City straphanger.

The quirks: Pay as you enter the train when you’re headed Downtown and pay when you exit when traveling away from Downtown. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The bus

The basics: There are 98 bus routes under Port Authority’s control in Allegheny County, 84 of them in Pittsburgh.

When and where it works: Most hours of the day and almost everywhere.

How much it costs: $2.75 per ride without a ConnectCard and $2.50 with one. Cash accepted upon boarding. Credits card not.

The map:

Port Authority system map
Courtesy of Port Authority

Tricks and tips: You can plan routes via the Port Authority’s website or your phone’s navigation system. You can also track buses via its True Time app. And it works, trust us — it’s a game changer if you’ve spent any time blindly waiting for a bus in the middle of a polar vortex.

When you’re waiting for the bus, you might want to flag it down like you’re hailing a cab. They’ve been known to breeze right by if it seems like you’re just hanging out on the sidewalk. So, take no chances. Playing it cool may come back to haunt you.

If the bus is crowded, MOVE BACK and make space for others. If you forget, don’t worry, your driver is more than willing to provide a loud, terse reminder.

Leave the seats in the very front of the bus for the people who need them. And while we’re channeling your mother here, give up your seat for people who need it more than you.

When it’s time to disembark, if the bus driver hasn’t opened the back door but you’re standing there waiting to exit, speak up. Shout to the front of the bus, and *politely* ask the driver to open the door. Otherwise, you’ll have to ride to the next stop and backtrack.

Also, on a side note, please don’t read the texts of other passengers, it’s bad form. Also don’t offer unsolicited advice to fellow passengers unless you see someone playing Candy Crush on their phone and obviously ignoring a lollipop hammer. In that case, you need to get involved.

The quirks: Like the T, buses accept cash but don’t make change, so maybe buy a pack of gum on your way to the station to break up those bigger bills, you baller you. For buses, it’s pay as you enter.

The airport

The basics: Did you know Pittsburgh is less than a 90-minute flight from 50 percent of North America’s population? Well, now you do. And assuming you want to take advantage of this fact, there’s an international airport located just outside the city to help you do it.

When and where it works: All day, ay-day. 1000 Airport Blvd., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15231.

How much it costs: Depends where you’re going. We hear Seattle is lovely this time of year.

Tricks and tips: We already compiled this guide to hacking Pittsburgh International Airport — and by that we mean its amenities and not its flight systems, just to be clear. That’s full of pro-tips for getting the most out of your time at PIT. But you don’t need a reason or even a flight to check out the airmall.

Getting there: The airport is located in Moon Township, just outside the city, so you’ll need a ride if you’re coming from town. Lucky for you there are a number of options on that front.

You can taxi there, Uber or Lyft there or take Port Authority’s Transit 28X Airport Flyer bus there. (One-way between the airport and Downtown on the 28X is $2.50.)

By taxi, a one-way fare between Pittsburgh International Airport and Downtown is about $40. If your flight is arriving at Pittsburgh, you can find waiting cabs by proceeding to the landside terminal, lower level, exiting through the “commercial” doors and heading toward the curbside taxi stand area. Visit Pittsburgh also offers this list of cab companies able to get you from the city to the airport or vice versa.

By shuttle, a one-way fare between the airport and Downtown is about $27. Visit Pittsburgh says shuttle reservations can be arranged online at or by calling 1-800-258-3826.

Other options

Passenger rail

Amtrak service in Pittsburgh originates at Downtown’s Amtrak Station at 1100 Liberty Ave. Click here for Amtrak information and schedules. There are two routes servicing the city, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership explains. The first is the Pennsylvanian, which connects Pittsburgh and New York City. The second is the Capitol Limited connecting Washington and Chicago with a stop in Pittsburgh.

The (other) Incline / Gateway Clipper

The Duquesne Incline actually began as a means of public transportation and now mostly exists as a tourist attraction. The incline’s website (not the website you’re currently using) explains in no uncertain terms that the cable car scaling Mount Washington has been “a part of Pittsburgh’s transportation system (not an amusement ride) since 1877.” (Our inner children continue to be amused by it, so gtfo if you’re upset it’s not a thrill ride.)

Meanwhile, you can honor that original utilitarian intent by using it today as a means of going from Grandview Avenue on high to West Carson Street on low without the aid of the switchback roads otherwise required. Information on hours and fares can be found here.

There is also the nearby Gateway Clipper, which can be used as a sightseeing cruise or as a legitimate means of conveyance, taking Steelers fans, for example, from the South Side to the North Shore for games. It’s a convenient way to avoid the parking crunch and lofty prices around the stadium. It’s also very pretty.

The FAQs

Where can I get a ConnectCard? You can get one at Port Authority’s Downtown Service, most Giant Eagles and other select retailers. A ConnectCard can then be reloaded at ConnectCard machines in the T stations and select bus stops within the Port Authority’s service area. You can even use Port Authority’s new Online ConnectCard Management system and set up your account online. Click setting up an account.

Why do people seem weirded out when I engage them in conversation on the train? We don’t know. Maybe start by asking about them.

Where can I find more information on fares and passes? Right here.

Where can I find more information on schedules and maps? That would be here.

How can I access Port Authority updates in Pittsburgh? You can follow Port Authority on Twitter, @PGHtransit, or monitor Port Authority rider alerts here.

Anyway, hope this helps and happy travels. Let us know if you have any questions: [email protected].

UPDATE: An updated map of Pittsburgh’s Light Rail system has been added to this post. The post has also been updated to clarify the map’s source.