Along with the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, this busway was planned as an Early Action Program project by the then Port Authority of Allegheny County after it had acquired Pittsburgh Railways in 1964.  Plans originally called for it to be built as part of the eventually-cancelled Saw Mill Run Expressway.

Construction began in the mid-1970s on what was originally called the PATway South, which was conceived for buses to bypass congestion at the Liberty Tunnel and on the Liberty Bridge.  The name was changed to the South Busway on December 1, 1977, just two weeks before its opening, at the same time the then-planned East Busway received its moniker.  "The previous name may have been clever, but we thought it was confusing to the public," according to Mike Scanlon, Port Authority Transit public relations director.  "The new name tells people exactly what the facility is and does – a busway to the south."

Local, county, state, and even federal officials gathered on a cold and damp December 15, 1977 to dedicate the new $27 million busway at a ribbon-cutting ceremony early that day which featured the South Hills High School Marching Band.  Two-thirds of the total was paid by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, now known as the Federal Transit Administration.  Pittsburgh Mayor Richard Caliguiri, the three county commissioners, and James B. Wilson, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, were some of the dignitaries in attendance.  Many of them sung the praises of the new roadway, especially Charles F. Bingman, deputy for the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, who called it "history in the making."  He pointed out that the facility is the first in the nation where buses will travel a dedicated roadway which is not part of an existing highway.  It was also the largest bus-only road project in which the UMTA has participated.  "Putting a project of this magnitude together takes a lot of hard work, patience, and cooperation," Bingman said.  "The reward goes to the people of this area with the promise of easier, more efficient public transportation."  His boss, Richard S. Page, administrator of the UMTA, had originally been scheduled to appear at the dedication but was eventually unable to attend.

While opening one busway, Bingham also had some good news to share with those in attendance aboard the Gateway Party Liner that afternoon on another.  He announced that $31,880,000 had been approved to begin work on the East Busway in 1978.  "It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce today the immediate award of $31.9 million to begin construction of the East Busway."  The announcement was greeted with a roar of applause from the transit and government officials on hand.

Later in the day, the first buses began using the South Busway for the first time as the Port Authority began to phase in service.  Two special shuttles operated on December 17 from 10 AM to 6 PM giving free rides to introduce the new road to the public, before full service began on December 18 with 10 bus routes using the new facility.  The busway ended up cutting 30 to 50 minutes off the running times of certain buses coming in from the South Hills during morning rush hours.

While other busways were built with the idea of converting them to a light rail alignment, this one shares its right-of-way with the light rail system known as the "T" in a couple of locations.  Glenbury to South Bank is shared with the Overbrook line which carries the Blue and Silver lines, Dawn to South Hills Junction with the Beechview Line carrying the Red Line, and from South Hills Junction to Station Square, including the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel, is shared with all of the lines.  Between 1985 when light rail service began and 1993, the Overbrook line shared the entire right-of-way with the busway.  The Overbrook line was suspended in 1993, and when it was rebuilt, it was done so on a separate alignment with only the South Bank stop serving as a transfer point between the two.

Not two months after it opened, the first accident took place on February 10, 1978.  That day, a bus collided with a trolley at the South Hills Junction, where both the busway and subway line share a right-of-way.  The accident claimed the life of four, including the Port Authority bus driver.  He would be the only driver to die in an accident in the history of the agency until 1996 when an accident would claim the life of a driver on the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.

That would not be the last accident to occur at the South Hills Junction.  On May 13, 1997, at 12:30 PM, a Mid Mon Valley Transit bus collided with a Port Authority trolley at the station.  The impact from the crash exploded the bus' windshield and created dents to both the bus and trolley.  The driver of the bus, Bernard Bulna, was extricated after his leg was pinned in the accident and was taken to Allegheny General Hospital but released soon afterwards.  After the wreckage was cleared, it became a battle of "they said/we said" between the Port Authority and Mid-Mon Valley Transit.  MMVT stood by their driver's story that he had the right-of way.  "Our operator said he had the green signal," said Aldo Nones, president of 88 Transit.  He continued, "He said he saw the trolley.  It was stopped, but he kept watching it.  Next thing he knew, it was coming at him."

Paul Schmidt, the driver of the trolley and a Port Authority operator for 21 years, told police he followed procedures leading up to the accident.  He said that he stopped for a red light, waited for it to turn green, but saw the MMVT bus coming at his trolley and pulled away from the light.  Port Authority spokeswoman Judi McNeil countered the MMVT accusations, saying, "When he noticed the inbound bus was not coming to a stop, he immediately applied the emergency brakes."  Both operators were given drug and alcohol tests as required by federal law.

Port Authority could have opted to retrain drivers on using the busway, which would have affected the Mid Mon Valley Transit's 30 inbound and outbound routes, which makes it the largest user of the South Busway.  A decision would have also affected DeBolt-Somerset Bus Company and Washington County Transit, which both make two trips daily.  Port Authority employees, city and local police, and county sheriff's deputies would not have been affected by this decision.

No one likes to hear the word "construction" especially when it is an indirect activity.  No doubt the riders of the busway felt that way in June 2000 when a one-mile section was closed due to reconstruction of the Overbrook line of the T.  The busway was included so that the narrow right-of-way on the hillside overlooking PA 51 could be improved.  Due to the closure, 11 Port Authority routes and Mid Mon Valley Transit buses were detoured onto Saw Mill Run Boulevard.  What was to have taken 18 months to complete took 25, and finally at the end of July 2002 buses were again rolling down the South Busway.

One week after the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge which carried Forbes Avenue over Frick Park, another bridge in the "City of Bridges" was closed indefinitely to avoid that same potential fate.  Engineers on February 4, 2022 discovered a portion of the span, known as the Palm Garden Bridge, that carries the South Busway and light rail lines over Saw Mill Run Boulevard (Truck US 19/PA 51) in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh had shifted.  Thankfully, that morning, a sharp-eyed Port Authority employee had noticed a joint on the bridge deck appeared to have expanded.  Bus and rail traffic was immediately suspended and engineers and a bridge consultant sent to examine the joint for signs of distress and movement.  Engineers determined the bridge is stable, but not the cause of the shift, and noted it must be repaired before it is used again.  The bridge's previous inspection was in October 2020 when it was rated satisfactory.  Work will entail removing part of the concrete bridge deck to access the superstructure; remove the existing anchor bolts and reset the position of the bridge; repair and/or replace the rail joint; and replace the section of the bridge deck that was removed at the beginning.  Crews will also have to remove the overhead power lines for the "T" before construction can start, and replace them once it is completed.  Seven bus lines and the Red Line of the subway are affected by the closure, with the Port Authority providing shuttle service to supplant the lost service.

On February 10, the Port Authority of Allegheny County announced that engineers and consultants determined water infiltrated the concrete and expanded when air temperatures dropped during a recent cold snap, caused the bridge to shift.  The announcement was of little comfort to residents of the Beechview neighborhood, who are dealing with bus shuttles using city streets between Potomac Station and Station Square.  "Now we have a massive traffic jam," resident Leanna Indyk said.  Indyk recorded video on the night of February 9 showing buses turning from Sebring Avenue to Beechview Avenue and becoming stuck.  She said the roads in Beechview are already narrow and residents pay for a permit to park on the street, which makes it more of a tight squeeze for buses to navigate.  "I was thinking I could maybe back up?" is what one driver can be heard yelling in one of Indyk's videos.  "I looked out to see what was happening and there was just a bus gridlocked in the entire intersection, followed by another bus grid locking the entire intersection," Indyk said.  "They were just sitting out here honking, like they wanted people to come out and move their cars for them."  Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph responded by saying, "The current shuttle bus detour is the only way that we’re able to continue to serve our riders while we work to repair the Saw Mill Run Boulevard Bridge.  Our engineering department and bridge contractor are in the process of putting together a repair timeline, and once we have that, we will communicate it to the public."  Port Authority announced on February 16 the bridge would remain closed for an additional 10 to 12 weeks for what is estimated to be $2 million in repairs.  The bridge reopened to bus traffic on May 14, but subway service was still halted due to work replacing several feet of track, ties and ballast near the Fallowfield Station in Beechview.  After testing had concluded, subway trains began using the bridge once again on May 24.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Police (ITDP) categorizes the South Busway as a "Basic BRT Corridor" as scored and verified by their BRT Standard technical committee.

Southern Terminus: Glenbury Street in Pittsburgh
Northern Terminus: PA 837/East Carson Street in Pittsburgh
Length: 4.55 miles
Names: South Busway
PATway South (original)
County: Allegheny
Bus Routes: 39 Brookline (Pioneer Avenue to Downtown)
40 Mount Washington (Plum Garden to Downtown)
41 Bower Hill (Dawn to Downtown)
44 Knoxville (Plum Garden to Downtown)
Y1 Large Flyer
Y45 Baldwin Manor Flyer
Y46 Elizabeth Flyer
Y47 Curry Flyer
Y49 Prospect Flyer
CAL Commuter
Commuter A
Commuter EXpress 1
Commuter EXpress 2
Emergency: 911
412-255-1385 (Pittsburgh Regional Transit Police)
Links: South Busway Map
Saw Mill Run Expressway (Cancelled)
BRT Rankings - The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy
The Busways - Shawn Bennear
Maps & Schedules - Mid Mon Valley Transit
South Busway - Transit.Wiki
System Map - Pittsburgh Regional Transit