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St. Pete neighborhood makes transit history

Mark Parker

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Brad Miller (right), CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, presents Historic Kenwood resident Megan Basnett, a founding member of Car Free St. Pete, with the agency's first Universal Pass. Photos by Mark Parker.

St. Petersburg’s Historic Kenwood neighborhood is now Florida’s – and potentially the nation’s – first to receive unlimited free public transit rides.

The historic initiative stems from a groundbreaking partnership between the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association. Members will receive a Universal Pass (UPASS) for every county bus route and the SunRunner rapid transit service at no additional cost.

Several community stakeholders joined transportation and city officials at Seminole Park to celebrate the milestone Tuesday morning. Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, noted that Kenwood was once one of Tampa Bay’s first “streetcar suburbs” with a trolley connection to downtown St. Pete, before most people owned vehicles.

“That transit connection allowed St. Petersburg to flourish, expand westward and grow,” Miller said. “And this new approach we’re launching today will help write the next chapter in St. Petersburg.”

He expressed optimism that the pilot program will serve as a model for other neighborhoods. Miller said he has already fielded calls from other associations regarding expansion.

Kenwood residents receive a UPASS card they tap when entering a bus or trolley. Association dues cover the costs.

The program is unique. Not only is it the first in a state not known for embracing public transportation, but Miller said he is unaware of any similar partnerships nationwide.

“By eliminating the cost barrier associated with riding the bus or the SunRunner, we are ensuring that every resident has the ability to travel freely across Pinellas County,” he added. “This will make it easier for people to commute to work, attend school, access healthcare services and take part in community activities.”

City Councilmember Richie Floyd represents the area. He said the program would help mitigate traffic, pollution and parking needs downtown and increase local connectivity.

Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association members in front of a modern trolley.

Floyd, in a nod to the area’s streetcar history, said the program is “bringing back what was an essential function of society from back in the day.” He also noted the recent local and national opposition to public transportation.

“It’s really important that we make partnerships with neighborhoods like this so that we can expand transit,” Floyd said. “With everything that’s been going on lately, I’m very grateful to the neighborhood association and PSTA for this innovative partnership that’s going to move us forward.”

Floyd said the overarching goal is to create a transit system people utilize due to its benefits rather than out of necessity. Kenwood community leaders are already seeing a return on their investment.

Association treasurer Alexis Baum said two governing boards fostered the program. PSTA offered a substantially discounted UPASS rate, and members decided the potential benefits were worth the budgetary expense.

“With our remarkable historic homes, we absolutely love to celebrate our past in this neighborhood,” Baum said. “But it’s just as important to look ahead to our future. Less traffic and more time together … saving on gas and protecting the environment – it just all makes a lot of sense.”

Baum told the Catalyst that the association featured about 500 members, or roughly 10% of the neighborhood’s population, before the partnership. She said over 50 residents have joined since receiving the news Saturday.

Baum said about nine out of every 10 new members credited the UPASS initiative for their decision to join. “They’re kind of coming out of the woodwork, which is super exciting,” she added.

Baum explained that the partnership is a one-year pilot. The UPASS card allows association officials to track ridership and discern how members use the program.

“Right now, we’re all taking a leap of faith,” Baum said. “We think it’s worthwhile to go for it and both equally invest in this partnership. We will – hopefully – all want to try to find a new way to go forward.”

Miller presented Kenwood resident Megan Basnett with the first UPASS card. Basnett, a longtime community advocate, serves as the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) secretary. She is also a founding member of Car Free St. Pete, a nonprofit that works to decrease the city’s reliance on vehicles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mike C

    June 6, 2024at1:41 pm

    Car free St. Pete = business free St. Pete.
    For some mass transit makes sense (although the quantitative value proposition doesn’t exist).
    However, for the vast majority they prefer a car, a scooter or a bike, they prefer freedom of movement.

  2. Avatar

    Danny E White

    June 5, 2024at3:50 pm

    “PSTA’s Universal Pass Program, also called UPASS, allows businesses and nonprofit organizations to pay PSTA an annual discounted rate in exchange for unlimited public transit access for their guests, employees, and/or students.” What is the ‘annual discounted rate?’ Is the discounted rate dependent on how much the Association’s annual dues? Is there a maximum number of Association members who may have a UPASS?

  3. Avatar

    Mike Connelly

    June 5, 2024at11:58 am

    “I go out walking after midnight in the moonlight” 🚍🙋🌙

  4. Avatar

    Jim Zavist

    June 5, 2024at10:43 am

    Nothing new – Denver’s RTD has been offering it for a couple of decades. https://www.rtd-denver.com/fares-passes/pass-programs/neighborhood-ecopass

  5. Avatar

    John

    June 5, 2024at7:49 am

    Great for Kenwood.

    Is Central Oak Park next? Expanding transit neighborhood by neighborhood seems to be a reasonable approach to getting more people to use the SunRunner.

  6. Avatar

    John Donovan

    June 5, 2024at5:39 am

    In Toronto recently. A massive number of cars. As many as 8 lanes in each direction miles from downtown. Heavy traffic. They have subway and street cars and ridership is 2.4mm/day. Many e-bike delivery and general riders downtown. Miles from downtown Toronto five or more 30 story buildings under construction in one area about size of downtown St Petersburg. Don’t eliminate traffic lanes. We will need them all. There is no such thing as free! Someone (taxpayers)pays.

  7. Avatar

    Kari

    June 4, 2024at4:14 pm

    Megan, Brad and Car Free St Pete are awesome and we are lucky to have them and benefit from their hard work and advocacy! Car Free St Pete promotes ways to travel and commute without needing a car. It’s a win win because one less car on the road and needing a parking spot is good for everybody!

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