Nite Rider returns: Here’s what’s next for the South Side shuttle

Avoid parallel parking. Park for free. Ride a drunk bus.

nite rider
Courtesy of Allison Harnden
MJ Slaby

Billed as a way to avoid South Side parking and still get to bars with no added cost, the Nite Rider shuttle launched nearly a year ago for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

But it’s been on hiatus since December, as city leaders revamp its mission before its return for St. Patrick’s Day.

“It hasn’t produced the way we hoped,” said Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus, who represents the South Side. That’s partly because it never gained popularity and partly because the problems it hoped to solve had other solutions.

Funded with $40,000 from UPMC, the Nite Rider offered free rides on Friday and Saturday nights into the early morning. Riders left their cars in the lighted Second Avenue Parking Plaza, where it’s free to park, and took the shuttle to several stops in the South Side.

The funds from UPMC were enough to run the shuttle from March 17 to Dec. 15, 2017 and had just under 1,000 riders, said Allison Harnden, Pittsburgh’s nighttime economy manager.

Prior to the Nite Rider, the city offered a St. Patrick’s Day shuttle that in 2016 had 550 riders. Nite Rider saw its most passengers on one day in May — 66.

Although the hope was for riders to use the shuttle when going to the bars, the Nite Rider saw some success in giving rides to George K. Cupples Stadium and City Theatre, Harnden and Kraus said.

But City Theatre doesn’t see its biggest crowds on Friday and Saturday nights, said Marketing Director Laura Greenawalt. The theater tried to promote the shuttle to attendees, but the since it’s not daily, it didn’t catch on as much as it could have, she said.

A need for change

The idea for the Nite Rider started about four years ago in an attempt to ease congestion and improve safety on and around East Carson Street, Kraus said. That was also around the time that ride sharing came to Pittsburgh, partly solving those very issues.

Ride sharing eases congestion because people aren’t circling looking for parking spots, and they aren’t walking back to their cars several blocks into the neighborhood after a night of drinking, making them the target for assault and vehicle break-ins, he said.

For example, 2017 saw a 17 percent decrease in what Pittsburgh police classify as “Part I Crimes,” which includes assault, vehicle break-ins and DUI in the South Side Flats, per Alicia George, Pittsburgh Public Safety spokesperson. That’s in part due to an increased police presence in the neighborhood and public safety partnerships with residents and businesses.

Uber and Lyft confirmed they work with police to find the best pickup and drop-off locations in the South Side. For St. Patrick’s Day, both companies will divert riders and drivers to side streets to avoid congestion on East Carson.

So with rides sharing available, many people that the city thought would take the Nite Rider were taking Uber or Lyft instead, Kraus said, and the people who normally drove or walked to the South Side kept doing so.

Nite Rider returns

After receiving $20,000 from Highmark, the shuttle will return next weekend.

Instead of being a weekly fixture, its schedule will be determined by times of highest ridership, Kraus said.

The free shuttle will run for a handful of holidays and events in 2018 starting with St. Patrick’s Day, when Nite Rider will operate from 5 a.m. March 17 to 5 a.m. March 18. Stops include:

  • Bedford Square
  • South 18th and Sidney streets
  • South 21st and East Carson streets
  • First Avenue T-station (new this year)
  • Second Avenue Parking Plaza (free to park here)

Other dates are still in the works but could include the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the weekend college students return, the weekend of college finals, Cinco De Mayo and playoff games featuring Pittsburgh teams. Follow the Nite Rider on Facebook for updates.

It also could be used to mitigate headaches during the heavy construction of an East Carson Street revamp slated to start in the fall, Kraus said. That project — including street resurfacing, signal upgrades, ADA curb upgrades and pedestrian safety improvement — will span from 33rd to Smithfield streets and is expected to last more than a year, per PennDOT.

In its second year, Kraus said he hopes focusing on bigger events will have the better outcome, despite having less funding. “It’s a more surgical approach.”