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Rising costs bump up fares

(ran EAST, BEACH edition)

Fuel and insurance, those necessary annoyances filling every motorist's life, have touched mass transit. As a result, most riders are going to have to pay more to hop a county bus starting Aug. 5.

Fares are increasing in general 20 to 25 percent, depending on the category. Most daily riders, including students, will pay 25 cents more per ride, while reduced-fare customers will pay an extra dime.

Increases also will go into effect for unlimited daily full- and reduced-fare riding. Senior riders (65 and older) and disabled people are eligible for the reduced rates.

But several other fare categories _ most for longer-term bus passes _ remain unchanged. (see chart). Children five years old or less will continue to ride free.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority decided to raise fares to meet the increasing fuel and insurance costs, said PSTA marketing director Janet Recca. The increase, which followed three public hearings in April, is the first in about six years, Recca said.

PSTA has figures showing it paid 58 cents a gallon for diesel in 1994, compared to about $1 today. And insurance rates have gone up $1.3-million last year to an expected $1.7-million.

Meanwhile, construction on the new Central Plaza bus terminal is moving rapidly. Work on the $2.6-million project is expected to finish in time for an opening in December or January, Recca said.

"In spite of the rain, everything is going real well," she said.

Federal grant money is paying for most of the project.

The new depot will sit on an acre of land at 32nd Street between Central Avenue and First Avenue S, and will take the current transfer point off Central. PSTA officials view the move as enhancing passenger and pedestrian safety because it moves stops off one of St. Petersburg's major thoroughfares.

It also will provide another major terminal, joining other big depots at Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg and in Clearwater. The Central Plaza facility will have public restrooms, a customer information booth and slots for up to 12 buses.

And it won't mean a reduction in the number of routes serving Williams Park, Recca said.

"They won't change, and the reason is if you look at downtown St. Pete, it's so refreshing to see all the development going on there. So many of our routes connect there. So it's necessary for us to keep our level of service."

All 19 routes currently coming and going at Williams Park will continue, Recca said.

The Central Plaza depot will help serve another area undergoing change. St. Petersburg's new YMCA, now under construction just south of the bus terminal, will open in a few months.

And the terminal will be part of the Grand Central District, a revival effort comprising sections of Central and First avenues N and S.

"You can see how (activity on) Central Avenue is creeping more toward 34th Street," Recca said.

(text accompanying chart not provided for electronic library, see microfilm)

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