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PSTA to start charging for SunRunner

Veronica Brezina



PSTA's SunRunner. Image provided.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has agreed to start charging SunRunner riders, despite the potential loss of funding supporting the currently fare-free service. 

After a heated three-hour-plus discussion Wednesday, the PSTA board cast a 13-to-2 vote passing a new motion from member Rene Flowers to begin charging fares for the bus rapid transit service earlier than the initially scheduled Nov. 1 timeframe. 

The move follows multiple meetings where residents and business leaders voiced concerns about homeless residents taking advantage of the free rides on the bus rapid transit system that links downtown St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. 

Starting Oct. 1, a one-way ticket will cost $2.25, while an all-day pass will be available for $5. The fares would be paid electronically. 

PSTA recently extended the free service until October. Initial conversations formed about charging a 50 cent fee. 

The Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas (HLA), on behalf of the Pinellas Continuum of Care (CoC), issued a letter Monday, urging the board to dismiss the motion, stating that accepting electronic payments only has “far-reaching implications that cannot be ignored.” 

“Increasing the SunRunner’s fares – even nominally – while requiring these fees be paid electronically raises concerns about equity and accessibility. Requiring payment through a card system excludes individuals without access to such technology, effectively sidelining those who are already marginalized, including residents experiencing homelessness,” the letter read.

The COC asked PSTA to “reconsider this policy and to continue inclusive practices that prioritize equitable access and foster a greater sense of community.” 

The COC invited members of PSTA’s board and all concerned parties to participate in a discussion to address the concerns and work towards a resolution. 

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch also penned a letter opposing the fare implementation. “Removing barriers and ensuring that all passengers, especially those with income limitations and mobility difficulties, have equal access to SunRunner is necessary to realize the full potential of our return on investment,” he wrote. It’s a major supporter of economic development along the entire route and we are seeing more dense and affordable housing announced near stations every month.” 

Welch highlighted how the SunRunner supports the city’s up-zoning options related to transit-oriented development, promotes reduced parking demand in the downtown core, and his belief that the service will continue and will play a key role in the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District. 

“What fair rationale dictates that SunRunner shouldn’t remain free (when St. Petersburg is willing to make PSTA financially whole), but these other routes and programs can continue to be free?” Welch continued. 

Welch noted how he included $200,000 in the fiscal year 2024 recommended budget to keep the SunRunner fare-free for an extended time. 

“If SunRunner remains free to all users, I am amenable to negotiating a higher amount for year two and beyond to ensure that the buy-down is as accurate and fair as possible. Additionally, the FY 24 recommended budget includes a buy down on bus fares on all routes for transportation disadvantaged riders at a cost of $175,000,” he wrote.

“Accordingly, if PSTA decides to charge a fee to ride only a portion of the route, we will not move forward with a fare buy-down agreement. Additionally, if PSTA chooses to implement a nominal fare or decides on any policy that makes it harder for certain groups to ride while favoring other groups, we will not participate.” 

During the meeting, numerous public commenters approached the board members, offering a slew of conflicting opinions. 

Earlier this month, local leaders approved funneling more funds to hire extra patrols at the county park St. Pete Beach Access stop, located at 4700 Gulf Blvd. 

“I’m very confident a fare will mitigate the impact. Nothing solves everything, but this is going to significantly impact it,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. “Let’s give this a shot.”

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  1. Avatar

    Randy Weiner

    August 24, 2023at3:51 pm

    Would love a monthly pass option, as well. Thank you for keeping it free for longer than originally planned. We all knew it was temporary. $2.50 is a reasonable and fair price.

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    August 24, 2023at3:40 pm

    As an annual visitor, I enjoyed taking the service in March-April. I am happy to pay for the day pass. Passengers were all kinds of folks, added to the trip. The drivers, however, need improvement as ambassadors for the wonderful service.

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    August 24, 2023at10:11 am

    Well, this will probably end up sinking this project and 1st Ave N and 1st Ave S will go back to becoming three lane roads.

    The only reason my friend group used the SunRunner was the convenience and fare-free rides.

    Who’s going to wait 15-minutes for the bus to get to a stop and pay $2.50, when you get a scooter or an uber and get to your destination much faster.

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    David Grant

    August 24, 2023at6:56 am

    I can understand the decision to enact fares but I would have expected a more fully formed plan after all this time. How have they not accounted for the low-income workers in the form of a “Work Pass” priced at $1 a day for verified staff of the many businesses downtown and at the beach who are reliant on this staff? How is there not a “ShortStop Pass” for residents who use it to ride only 2 or 3 stops to attend a game, a restaurant, an art event or the Publix nearby? My understanding that a primary intent of this installation was to reduce the number of cars in the congested areas. This new fare system may well curb the discomfort beach residents have toward our homeless population but doing so will deliver a huge step backwards to one of the core intents of the program.

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    debra roman

    August 23, 2023at8:39 pm

    Seems like a token meter that takes cash should be available at all stops so all can ride without the electronic hurdle onboard.

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    Danny E White

    August 23, 2023at6:06 pm

    The implementation of a fare to ride the Sunrunner was part of the plan from day one. The decision to offer free rides over a period of time was generous and has served many people well according to PSTA ridership numbers. The outcry from St Pete Beach folks at this juncture seems to be a matter of bad timing because paying for the ride has always been in the plan. Unhoused people have undoubtedly taken the ride since it began in October 2022; it is just now that some folks are voicing their unhappiness with how many of them have reportedly caused distress in the beach town. How do they know for a fact that the persons causing the alleged distress are among the unhoused? As for the issue of being able to pay only by electronic means, yes, it may very well disrupt loyal riders who are underbanked. The same set up is in place at Tropicana Field and nobody seems to be overly concerned about who can easily access Rays games/event parking and concessions! So, how does PSTA and the City/Cities accommodate those who find value in the Sunrunner yet are financially challenged to come up with a weekly fair, let alone pay electronically? Surely there is a reasonable work-around to enable all riders the dignity of reliable transportation; especially if they work anywhere along the Sunrunner routes. Get businesses along the route involved to help their employees.

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    August 23, 2023at5:21 pm

    Good. And good riddance. I live on the sun runner route and I absolutely hate that thing. I wish we in St. Petersburg had a local government that stood with its residents instead of worshiping the homeless and forcing programs that are actively opposed. No one voted for sun runner. No one asked for sun runner. And this is one more step in exposing the sun runner as the total failure that it is.

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    August 23, 2023at4:01 pm

    there are conflicting considerations and name calling doesn’t add one thing to the argument. facts are slim in the sense how many homeless were using sun runner and exactly what bad things did they do. numbers and facts are essential to make decisions. there are some 600,000 homeless in america. there needs to be a discussion about what equity means in each conflict and why.

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    Lopez Lauren

    August 23, 2023at3:48 pm

    What a horrible decision this is for the working poor who utilize this transportation. Way to give in to the Sheriff who thinks he is running this county and looks like he may be. What has happened to SPB? I grew up here back in the 60’s-early 70’s when there weren’t even parking meters on SPB. What a bunch of snobs they’ve become. I don’t even go there anymore.

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    Margarete Tober

    August 23, 2023at3:41 pm

    What a bunch of elitist crap! Other cities such as Gulfport and Treasure Island are working together to contract with a social service agency to address / help issues with the homeless. Apparently the Mayor of SPB thinks he so good hepoops ice cream. I will no longer frequent SPB and encourage others to boycott it as well.AND I’m highly disappointed in Sheriff Gualteri!!

  11. Avatar


    August 23, 2023at3:40 pm

    Good way to lose the award PSTA just got. Now that we have significant ridership, let’s screw it up. Back to the car!

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