New shuttle service will run with propane-fueled buses


As of July 1, Pittsburgh Transportation Group will be taking over as the operator of Pitt’s shuttles from Lenzer/Coach USA, which has run the shuttles since they were started.

Kevin Sheehy, assistant vice chancellor of Auxiliary Operations and Finance, relayed this news and updates on other parking and transportation issues during the May 18 Senate Plant Utilization and Planning committee meeting. He specifically talked about various proposals for when the Pitt community returns to the Oakland campus.

New shuttle service

When Pittsburgh Transportation Group takes over Pitt’s shuttle routes, it will be using 20 brand new propane-fueled buses, Sheehy said.

“This is our next step into a more sustainable option,” he said. Electric buses were considered, but Sheehy said, “The battery life is not there for as many hours as we run our shuttles.”

The new vehicles, which have either 36 or 24 seats, have the flexibility to be converted to compressed natural gas in the future.

PTG has installed hand sanitizers in all the new buses. Drivers will be wiping down high-touch areas during the day, and the buses will get a thorough cleaning every night. Other safeguards will include scanning drivers for high temperatures when they arrive for work, putting screens around the drivers and leaving the first row empty.

Because of social distancing guidelines, the shuttles will not initially be permitted to operate at full capacity. Sheehy estimated that the 36-seat bus could hold 10 to 16 people and the 24-seat could have 10 to 12. Because of this, he said, they’re exploring continuing to contract with Lenzner for some shuttles to ease congestion.

Parking issues

“I felt really good prior to (the coronavirus pandemic) that things were going in the right direction,” Sheehy said. “We were starting to make some inroads into programs that would reduce the single occupancy vehicles coming to campus.”

Now, in addition to Port Authority limiting how many people can be on its buses, he’s heard many people saying they want to drive themselves to work because they feel safer that way.

For now, the Soldiers & Sailors, Posvar and O’Hara garages remain open, along with Pitt’s outside lots. The garages and lots have been free for those workers who had to come to campus, and they’ve also been made available to UPMC essential workers.

The O’Hara Garage had been scheduled to close on May 1, with demolition to follow shortly after that to make way for a new campus recreation center. That project has been put on hold as Pitt assesses its finances, and, for now, the garage will remain open on a month to month basis, Sheehy said.

All the permit holders in O’Hara have been notified about where they will be relocated, but he said they will be contacted again when the closing is imminent.

Sump pump and drainage work in Soldiers & Sailor Garage started May 15, and Pitt is working with the contractor to get the project back on schedule.

As his team plans for people to return to the Oakland campus, Sheehy said, “We’re proving that people can work remotely, and we’re going to continue to encourage that where possible.”

To make sure current permit holders aren’t holding onto permits they may only be using one day a week, Sheehy said they are looking at ways to move away from the monthly permit system, and the parking office is close to finalizing a deal with a company that would provide an app that lets people reserve spaces on certain days.

“We know that may have an impact on people that for years have been afraid to give up their parking permit for fear of, ‘I may never get parking again,’” he said. “The parking office is doing a thorough job at vetting out some technology solutions that would allow us to move away from that monthly permit, if your job requires you now to work remotely part time. …

“For example, if I had my accounting person coming into the office one day a week to handle deposits …, I really want them to turn their permit in. But I also realized that I have to have parking available to them.”

For new employees, a new section of the orientation will include “How do I get to work?” Sheehy said they want parking to be a last resort.

Campus re-entry

As chair of the Parking and Transportation work group — part of the Task Force on Employees and Operations on Planning for Fall 2020 — Sheehy said he wants to share the group’s ideas for moving forward.

“This is a work in progress,” he said. “Our feeling is the more people we share this with, … the better off it is.  We want to continue to share, we want to hear the feedback. By no means, do I have all the answers to this. By no means, does the team have all the answers to it.”

They are already preparing for some staff to return as research labs open up.

“The goal is that we are going to come back in increments,” Sheehy said. “What that means is not all 20,000 plus employees come back the same day.”

Because the garages and lots have been free, the parking office will need a couple days’ notice before those with permits return so they can make sure the spaces are cleared out.

Sheehy also reminded everyone that the city of Pittsburgh began enforcing meters again on May 20.

Several issues are being considered by the working group:

  • They are working with Commute with Enterprise to possibly provide smaller vehicles, possibly six- to eight-person minivans, instead of the 12- to 14-seat vans. This would allow people to share rides but have less exposure.

  • Employees will be encouraged to use stairs to access their offices, if they are on the first or second floor, to avoid the close confines of an elevator.

  • In the parking garages, the pay stations and other high-touch areas will be cleaned hourly by ALCO, which has the contract to run the garages, and the cashier areas will be cleaned nightly. They also are looking at ways to make the entry gates touchless, where you just wave your ID over a sensor.

  • From a biking perspective, Sheehy’s team has been working on a lot of different things to enrich the biking atmosphere on campus, including rebranding bike lockers and racks and bike rooms in residence halls. A key part of the new bike infrastructure on campus is the bike lanes being added as part of the Bigelow Boulevard project. Those lanes will connect South Oakland and North Oakland for bikers. That project is starting back up again, but likely won’t be done before the fall semester starts, as originally planned.

Right now, Sheehy said, they have the luxury of planning for a limited number of people to return to campus, but “the whole thing’s going to change when students return.”

“I drove through campus a week or so ago. I’ve been at Pitt almost 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it where there’s nobody on the streets. It was eerie,” he said. “Not a good feeling; not the campus I want to remember. So whatever it takes, lets get us back there, but in a safe way.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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