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Bus fares to rise, routes to be cut

The people who can least afford it are about to take another hit to their pocketbooks. Bus fares are going up, and service is being cut.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials say both decisions are necessary because of increased costs and insufficient funding.

They also say that although some routes are being eliminated or shortened, only a few people will be left without service. Others may have to go farther to catch a ride and have longer trips. Some will have to leave earlier or later to catch a bus. A few will be able to get where they are going faster.

PSTA officials concede that the changes could be especially hard on poorer workers who can't afford other transportation. But ensuring that people can get to work is not the PSTA's duty, they say.

"We're not in the position where we can provide transportation to everyone in the county to their place of employment," said Paul Gibson, a Clearwater City Council member who serves on the PSTA board. "We do not have the financial resources."

PSTA board members voted this year to restructure 43 routes and increase fares. Beginning next Sunday, the regular fare will go up about 17 percent, from $1.50 to $1.75. The fares for seniors will increase from 75 cents to 85 cents, about a 13 percent jump in price.

It could cost someone who rides the bus to and from work about $10 more a month.

The changes are a result of decreased revenue and rising fuel costs, said Bob Lasher, PSTA spokesman.

Among the biggest hits to the PSTA's budget was the passage of Amendment 1, which meant lower property taxes. Property tax payments make up 70 percent of the transit agency's budget; the rest is funded by grants, advertising and rider fares.

"Because of Amendment 1, we're looking at a $10-million deficit by 2013 if we don't find another way to fund our system," Lasher said. "And it's going to grow incrementally by $2-million a year."

Also, during the past year the cost of diesel has increased 50 percent, Lasher said. The authority buys 2.5-million gallons a year.

PSTA officials said they tried to cut or reduce routes where ridership had dwindled. It is unclear how many people will be left without service, but ridership figures give some idea of how many will be affected. For example:

Route 96, a commuter service covering Central Plaza Terminal, the Carillon Office Park, Ulmerton Road and the ICOT Center, is being eliminated. Its ridership is about 18,639 a year.

The Municipal Services Shuttle in downtown St. Petersburg, with an annual ridership of 11,323, is also being cut. Route 4 will now serve that area.

Route 82, from downtown Clearwater to Westfield Shopping Center in Countryside, has an annual ridership of 50,393. It is being cut, but most of the route will be absorbed by Route 62.

"The overwhelming majority of riders affected by the changes will still be able to use PSTA. They just may have to walk an extra block or two," Lasher said.

That's the case with Route 38, which now makes four round trips to Snell Isle each day. That service is being eliminated because only nine people ride the bus each day, a little more than two people per round trip. Those riders will have to walk to First Street to catch a bus there, Lasher said.

Although some routes had become less popular, the PSTA reported an overall 10 percent increase in ridership over last year. Numbers spiked in July, when ridership was up 17 percent.

So if ridership is up, why increase fares?

"That is the common misconception," Lasher said. "When you're looking at fuel increases going up 50 percent but fare increases only going up 17 percent, it doesn't make up the difference."

The PSTA has a $30-million emergency fund, but Lasher said the agency has to be cautious about dipping into reserves, as several cities and counties have done.

"We need to always have a three-month operating budget for emergencies, for the Katrina-like thing," he said.

The PSTA held public forums across the county to inform riders about the changes and get feedback.

"The one thing we get all the time is that everybody wants increased service," he said. "But how are we going to fund an increase in the service without the income? When the state says you're going to cut, you don't have a choice."

Marshall Cook, a Pinellas Park resident who has served for years on the PSTA citizen advisory board, does not agree with the changes.

If officials really want ridership to go up, he said, they should make riding more convenient.

Route Changes
1 Combines service along First Street N with Route 22 along 22nd Avenue N. Provides service to Gateway Mall and Tyrone Square Mall Monday through Saturday.
4 Routing change at Gateway Mall and Fifth Ave S; from Gateway Mall will serve 83rd Avenue N; at Fifth Avenue S will serve Bayfront Center parking garage.
5 Trip added to serve Anvil Street. Time adjustments and trips eliminated.
7 Removed service to Anvil Street (will be served by Route 5). Time adjustments and trip eliminated and all weekday scheduled times adjusted to reflect hourly service.
11 Removed service to Whitney Road. Provides service from Roy Hanna Drive to PSTA 34th Street Complex Monday to Friday. Route ends at Shoppes of Park Place on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Time adjustments.
14 Removed service to 75th and Gulf Boulevard. Time adjustments.
15 Removed service to the Johnnie Ruth Clarke center and added service to 16th Street S. Time adjustments and trips eliminated. Weekday schedule adjusted to hourly service.
18 Time adjustments and trips eliminated. Additional trips added to serve Bay Pines VA Medical Center.
19 Time adjustments and trips eliminated.
20 Routing change; service to be provided on 17th Avenue from 34th Street N to 49th Street. Time adjustments and trips eliminated.
22 See the NEW Route 1 schedule. Route eliminated. Portion of route combined with Route 1.
23 Time adjustments and trips eliminated. Sunday and holidays reduced frequency.
30 Service provided in peak periods only Monday to Saturday. Time adjustments.
32 Removed service to USF and adjusted times.
35 Removed service to Gulfport and adjusted times.
38 Removed service to Shore Acres and Snell Isle; service increased on Sundays and holidays and times adjusted.
52 Time adjustments and trip eliminated.
58 Removed service to Home Shopping Network. Service provided to Carillon Business Complex peak periods only. Time adjustments and trips eliminated. Weekday schedule adjusted to hourly service.
59 Time adjustments.
68 Removed service to Bay Pines VA Medical Center. Time adjustments and trip eliminated.
74 Removed service to Koger Boulevard and 131st Street and 86th Avenue N. Added service to 137th Street. Time adjustments and trips eliminated.
75 Removed service to Crystal Lakes Manor (see Route 444). Removed service into Town Apartments. Time adjustments and trips eliminated.
79 Service to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and Ulmerton Road between 58th Street and 49th Street eliminated. Added service to 58th Street and Whitney Road. Time adjustments. Sunday service reduced to 90-minute frequency.
MSCS Municipal Services Center Shuttle eliminated.
444 Extended one later afternoon trip. Time adjustments.
SCBT Route combined with Route 80. Will provide service between Park Street Terminal in Downtown Clearwater, Clearwater Beach to Pass-A-Grille Beach.

Bus fares to rise, routes to be cut 09/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 2:32pm]
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