Why is Port Authority Offering Free Bus Rides?
The agency has reported a significant number of call offs following the enforcement of a vaccine mandate for its employees.
If you take the bus, you might have noticed something a little different — no bus fare. The free rides are part of a larger story, and they’re expected to continue through Sunday.
The decision to make rides free, Allegheny County Port Authority says, acknowledges the challenges riders are facing with staffing shortages following the agency’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The agency on Wednesday placed approximately 180 unvaccinated operators — 480 total unvaccinated employees — on leave, and disciplinary hearings are expected to start this week and continue into the next.
Although Port Authority says many are expected to return to work within the next two weeks, service disruptions are expected to continue. Unvaccinated drivers will not be permitted to return to work, and a significant number of vaccinated drivers have called off work over the last few days in apparent solidarity with their coworkers, too.
The agency warns that riders may need to consider alternate methods of transportation.
“With such a significant portion of its workforce unavailable, the agency will not be able to deliver up to 20% of its scheduled service for the next several weeks,” a press release said, adding that it won’t be possible to detail where exactly service outages will occur day-to-day.
The disruptions in service have included longer wait times, out-of-service routes and less-than-reliable schedules for buses across the Allegheny County. But Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman maintains that “this is the right thing to do.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown the need to provide a safe transit environment for riders who rely on our services every day,” Kelleman said in a statement. “Enforcing the vaccine requirement is the best way for us to keep our riders, employees and all our families safe.”
She also urged vaccinated workers who had called off to return to work, and thanked those who did.
But the union representing the Port Authority employees — about 80% of whom are vaccinated — has been vocally against the vaccine mandate since it was announced in January that employees who refuse to get the shot will face disciplinary actions, including termination. It had challenged the requirement and lost in court.
“The people of Allegheny County rely on our services too much for [the union] to play these games,” Kelleman said. “Rather than continuing to fight, [union] leadership should encourage its remaining unvaccinated members to get vaccinated and join the over 80% of employees who have done so for the health, safety and welfare of our entire workforce and the riders we serve.”
For riders who already bought and began to use weekly or monthly passes from Port Authority or a third-party retailer, a complimentary seven-day pass will be credited to their accounts. Those who have purchased and begun to use a pass on a ConnecTix should bring their ConnecTix to the Port Authority’s Customer Service Center Downtown to receive their free 7-day pass.
Riders and operators alike are still required to wear a mask on all Port Authority buses and rail cars.