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PSTA to add SunRunner buses, expand service to vets

Veronica Brezina



PSTA's SunRunner. Image provided.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is planning to expand its SunRunner fleet and access to residents. 

The SunRunner service, a 10.3-miles bus rapid transit line that travels through downtown and St. Pete Beach, is $5 million under budget, giving the agency some wiggle room to apply the leftover funds to grow the service. 

During a Wednesday PSTA board meeting, the members will review a $3.12 million purchase order for three 40-foot BRT hybrid electric buses from the Gillig Corporation, a manufacturer PSTA has an existing relationship with. 

The Federal Transit Administration approved the use of the savings to go toward additional SunRunner improvements along the corridor, including a new station near the St. Pete Pier District, which recently debuted. 

The SunRunner, which has carried more than 600,000 people since its launch last year, has been trying to manage the large demand it sees during the weekend and at special events hosted by the City. 

“The SunRunner is our most popular route, and as ridership numbers continue to climb, we would like to add more buses to meet the growing needs of the community and keep service [frequency] every 15 minutes,” PSTA spokeswoman Stephanie Rank said. 

The SunRunner is a fare-free service through November.

PSTA intends to utilize a state program to acquire the additional heavy-duty transit buses.

The new buses ordered from Gillig will be “turn-key” and include interior onboard bike racks, passenger information displays, transit signal priority-capable systems, extra-wide boarding doors and fare validation systems, and will have a similar exterior appearance to the current SunRunner fleet.

The PSTA Finance Committee previously reviewed the proposed purchase and recommended approval. 

According to the agenda, the board will also discuss implementing new procedures to allow disabled veterans to ride fare-free on all buses starting Nov. 10. 

“Many of our riders are veterans and this would allow them to continue to ride the system with ease. In addition, it would attract new riders to leave their cars at home and ride the system,” PSTA documents read. 

This program is estimated to cost $89,000 in lost fares. 

Rank said PSTA is “currently trying to seek grant opportunities to help fund this program as well as building federal legislative support.” 

PSTA members were first presented with the proposed implementation in late March when University of South Florida students advocated for free rides for disabled veterans. Staff met with students in early April to review the data and incorporate their findings with staff analysis.

If passed, this program would utilize current agency procedures of the Transportation Disadvantaged (TD) Monthly Pass program to track the usage, and avoid additional hardships for bus operators. 

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