It happens to both new Pittsburghers and long time residents. They get on the bus, fumble for their wallet, and finally find their ID or pass to show the driver, who immediately yells back "PAY WHEN YOU GET OFF!" Then next time, you waltz right on by with the driver yelling "HEY! You have to pay!" like you jumped a turnstile. Confused?
This issue is one that is raised over and over again at the beginning of every year at my university, which gives bus passes to its students. Here's what the Port Authority of Allegheny County says:
Fares are collected as the rider boards on an inbound, or downtown-bound, trip and as the rider exits the outbound, or suburban-bound, trip. This policy is in effect at all times on the T and until 7:00 P.M. on Port Authority buses.
Buses with scheduled outbound Downtown departures after 7:00 p.m. and before 4:00 A.M. fares are collected as the rider boards the bus. This is known as "pay enter - outbound".
Wow, thanks PAT. That clears it right up. Ok, so it's not completely incomprehensible but it still may be confusing. Here's how to break it down:
1. Does the bus/trolley that you're getting on begin/end in Downtown? If no, pay when you enter. If yes, continue to step 2.
2. Are you heading away from Downtown? (It doesn't matter when you got on, it only matters which direction the bus is going.) If no, pay when you enter. If yes, continue to step 3.
3. Are you riding a bus? If no (you're riding the T) pay when you leave. If yes, continue to step 4.
4. Did your bus start its trip downtown between 4am and 7pm? If yes, pay when you leave. If no, pay when you get on.
Ok? Here's a better way:
If your bus enters downtown: pay going in going in to town, pay going out going out of town. Oh, if it started downtown between 4am and 7pm. And if the bus doesn't go crosstown. Damn it, it's not getting easier.
Ok, third time's a charm. Maybe I should say why this wacky system exists. Currently, all rides on buses within downtown are free between 4am and 7pm. If you're downtown during the day, people just waltz on and off of buses, both sets of doors open all the time, it's quite a scene.
But how does the Port Authority make sure everyone pays? By making people who are heading downtown pay when they get on since no passes are checked and no money is collected downtown. Likewise, people going home can't pay when they are downtown, because what if they're getting of 2 blocks later still in the free zone? Therefore, pay when you get off going out of town.
This is irrelevant for buses that don't go downtown like the 59U, those who don't let off downtown like the 28X, or those who operate after the free zone has ended for the night. In those circumstances, you always pay enter. The T is free downtown all the time, so the time restriction doesn't matter.
Still confused? One more tip: If the driver is covering the farebox with his/her hand, pay when you get off. And thank the driver for sparing you this in-depth analysis. Or just show it anyway, but beware of mean drivers and those who don't know the policy themselves. I've had pay-leave rides on the 59U and the EBO, both do not enter downtown. Oh well. Good luck.