Residents and visitors looking to split their time between the St. Petersburg Pier, the city’s downtown core and the beach without driving across the city will soon have a more efficient solution.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and city officials announced the region’s first bus rapid transit service would add a much-anticipated station abutting the Sundial parking garage, just a five-minute walk from the Pier. Two new SunRunner buses are also on the way.
The latest station is also a half-mile from where the Cross Bay Ferry docks in the Vinoy Yacht Basin, which would increase connectivity between downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. During Friday’s press conference, PSTA CEO Brad Miller said the decade-long project coming in $5 million under budget enabled expansion.
“The bottom line is, SunRunner’s colorful, efficient bus stations are already part of the fabric of our community,” Miller said. “Thank you for embracing the vision of how quality mass transit can literally transform our community and improve our quality of life. The best is yet to come.”
He called the first six months of operation an “amazing success” and noted ridership has steadily increased. Over 115,000 people utilized the service in March.
The SunRunner is already nearing the 600,000-passenger milestone, and “it just keeps growing.” Conversely, Miller said traffic accidents along the 10.3-mile route have decreased, and drivers have adapted to the dedicated lane changes.
He expects the new station at 150 1st Ave. N. and two additional low-emission hybrid electric buses to come online in about a year, and said high-ridership rates highlight the need to increase service. PSTA received federal approval for the expansion Thursday.
“More residents and tourists will park their cars and use other options if the service is efficient, clean and dependable,” Miller said. “The future is bright for mass transit in Tampa Bay.”
Mayor Ken Welch noted that over 40,000 people live within a half-mile of a SunRunner stop. The 2023 Firestone Grand Prix set a three-day ridership record, while February’s Localtopia festival set a new single-day benchmark with over 5,000 passengers.
Welch relayed that Miller often discussed transit-oriented development impacts when establishing the bus rapid transit system and said, “We’re seeing that happen right now along 1st Avenue.”
“Because residents and businesses want to be closer to that high-frequency and speed of the SunRunner service,” Welch added. “Transit-oriented development is not just a concept. It’s working right here in St. Petersburg – and it’s fueling our projects.”
City Councilmember Gina Driscoll represents downtown St. Petersburg and also chairs PSTA’s board. She exuded enthusiasm when addressing the media and stakeholders Friday.
Driscoll noted that Saturday is Earth Day, and the low-emission buses help decrease pollution caused by congested roadways. The city pioneered the region’s first bus rapid transit system, and she said it was also a leader in “cleaner and greener transit as well.”
Over half of SunRunner riders surveyed said they eschewed their vehicles in favor of the service, which Driscoll said was proof that it is helping reduce the city’s carbon footprint. In addition, she said it “dovetails perfectly with our laser focus” on supporting local businesses and increasing affordable housing options.
Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, relayed that the SunRunner corridor is home to over 50,000 jobs. He said the city adds 62 new jobs daily, and the service is not just for current residents.
Pinellas County welcomes about 15 million visitors annually, and Steinocher said they expect to spend their money downtown and at the beach and Pier. He said business owners would “shake all that money out of their pockets and put them back on their feet with a bright, shining smile” thanks to increased access and freedom to travel.
Steinocher added that becoming the best place on earth requires mass transit, and “we’re not done yet.”
“We want to get across the water and across the bridge with these things,” he said. “So that we can expand how our people live here, where they work and where they play. Let’s do that together.”