U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joined Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) leaders for a ride on the SunRunner bus service Monday, in a show of support for sustainable transportation solutions.
The SunRunner is PSTA’s Bus Rapid Transit service – the first of its kind in Tampa Bay. The service has been running since October 2022, but Monday was Castor’s first ride on a SunRunner bus. Castor spent the ride engaging with local commuters and transit officials, discussing the transformative potential of modern transit systems in shaping the future of mobility in St. Petersburg.
“We want to expand, and the timing is good because Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which sets aside more funding for local communities to do transit like the SunRunner,” Castor said.
Christopher Winters, a St. Pete resident who lives in senior housing downtown, heard about Castor’s ride on the SunRunner and came to give feedback on the service. Winters says he’d like to see some minor tweaks – like an announcement over the speaker stating which local businesses are near each SunRunner stop to keep riders informed.
“I also wish we had better service to Tampa,” said Winters. “I’d like to maybe go for a show at the Straz or a Lightning game, but the [bus] service is very sparse.”
“The number one request I always get is, ‘How do we get better service to Tampa?’ or to the airport,” PSTA CEO Brad Miller said. “They’re reconstructing the Howard Frankland Bridge right now and putting in lanes that buses can use, so it’s possible. We’ve studied that a lot, an express service connecting to Tampa.”
According to PSTA, ridership surveys show the SunRunner has attracted more new and first-time riders than any other service in the history of PSTA.
“Our surveys show that some 40% of riders say they had either never ridden public transit before or they would have driven their own car if not for SunRunner,” said Miller. “We’re attracting a whole new kind of rider to the system, and the goal all along is that this would be a success and a catalyst for the next corridor, to expand mass transit options in the area.”
Winters uses PSTA buses as his main form of transit and says he rides the SunRunner almost daily.
“I used to take the Central Avenue Trolley, but that has more stops, plus dealing with the Central Avenue traffic and cars pulling in and out of parking spaces on Central. Having a dedicated bus lane like this and only making a few infrequent stops makes the trip much nicer.”
The City of St. Petersburg recently held its first SunRunner Urban Station Design Charette (problem-solving meeting), where the overall sentiment was that the community favors increasing transit development.
“This is critical to advancing forward,” said Castor. “For many years, people were focused on light rail as the answer to transit, but the way things have evolved now with electrification and turning bus fleets into electric fleets where you’re not polluting the air, that’s where the large federal investments are going.”
PSTA currently has six electric buses in its fleet, with 62 more on order and expected to be in service within the next two years. Castor and Miller also discussed plans to electrify the tram at the St. Pete Pier.
“These are the investments that are going to keep growing, and I think they’ll become even more popular,” Castor said. “I think the future is bright for the SunRunner.”
Another SunRunner Urban Station Design Charette will be held Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at SPC’s Midtown Campus, 1300 22nd St. S. PSTA leaders encourage the public to attend and give feedback on proposed changes to commercial and SunRunner corridor station areas.
Learn more about the project and the upcoming meeting here.