The county's transportation authority will soon begin three new bus routes in a program intended to test both the popularity of a Pinellas Park shuttle service and the efficiency of a new electric bus.
The service, currently planned for a six-month test run, will pick up passengers at 14 residential complexes and take them to Pinellas Square Mall and Park Plaza shopping center. It will start July 10.
The service will become permanent if it attracts enough riders, said Jill Cappadoro, marketing director with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. More complexes could be added to the routes.
Cappadoro said there appears to be demand for a shuttle.
"About a year ago a community survey was done to find out residents' needs for transportation," Cappadoro said. "That information was used to develop these routes."
Officials with PSTA are hoping many elderly residents will choose the shuttle over driving.
"That's really a big portion of the people we are targeting," Cappadoro said.
There will be three routes, each running partly along 70th Avenue N. The routes include trips along U.S. 19 and 52nd, 66th, and 60th streets N. Shuttles will operate between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays. The regular fare will be $1; 50 cents for senior citizens.
The shuttle will stop at the Mainlands subdivision, a retirement community, Robert's Mobile Home and RV Resort and Freedom Village, a community for physically disabled residents.
The bus that will be used for the Pinellas Park shuttle is itself an experiment. It is powered by rechargeable batteries, can travel at 45 mph and can be operated for up to eight hours.
Officials with PSTA and Florida Power Corp. and researchers with the University of South Florida want to know whether an electric vehicle would work well enough to become part of PSTA's fleet.
The 22-passenger bus, which cost $209,000, is quieter than those with diesel engines and emits few fumes. USF researchers will use an onboard computer to collect information on speed and range.
By August, PSTA will have the resources to recharge the batteries with solar power, Cappadoro said. A garage at PSTA's headquarters will have photovoltaic cells that turn light into electricity. They work like cells on solar-powered pocket calculators, she said.
Florida Power is involved in the project because of its interest in developing a new source of power.
"We are very interested in seeing how photovoltaic cells fit into a niche market like this," said Florida Power spokeswoman Karen Raihill.
The cells also mesh with a growing interest in developing cleaner sources of power.
"It reduces dependence on fossil fuels and it would help improve air quality in urban areas," Raihill said.
For information on Pinellas Park Shuttle schedules and bus stops, call PSTA at 530-9911 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays.