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PSTA ironing out rapid bus service

(ran East, South, West, Seminole editions)

The bus serving Fourth Street, one of the city's major north-south arteries, will provide continuous 15-minute service starting in the next year or so, a board member of the county bus agency said Monday.

Karl Nurse of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority also said that Bus Rapid Transit, known as BRT, still is in the works for the Central Avenue corridor by 2009.

BRT would feature a bus that makes fewer stops and runs speedier routes by being able to delay some traffic lights' change to red.

The Central Avenue BRT corridor would run mostly on the First avenues N and S rather than Central. Its first phase would reach from downtown to the Central Avenue bus hub.

After that, perhaps within a year's time, it could stretch to the Gulf beaches, to South Pasadena or to the Tyrone area. The ultimate destination has yet to be determined.

"We're making real progress in getting it off the ground," Nurse said. He and John Bryan are St. Petersburg's representatives on the PSTA.

The BRT is considered a major step forward in improving mass transit. Another possible BRT route, on McMullen-Booth Road in northern Pinellas County, is on hold.

"We're looking at the entire route structure and determining which routes are the most effective," Bryan said.

It's not effective to keep routes unchanged, Bryan said, citing as an example bus service to Historic Old Northeast. When a population of working people lived there, more buses served the area than do now, he said, because the area's demographic has changed.

Another change forthcoming will be "adjusting some routes for Williams Park," Bryan said. The idea would be to avoid buses idling for a long time at the Williams Park stops. The topic has come up at meetings of downtown leaders looking for ways to improve the park's ambience.

It is important for the PSTA to be responsive to riders' needs, Bryan said.

"Let's put the routes where they need to be, where the people are. Let's be flexible for this. That's the basis for these changes," he said.

The Fourth Street route, designated bus No. 4, appropriately, currently has 15-minute service early in the morning. The new plan would provide 15 minutes between buses at any given stop all day.

The route runs from Pinellas Point Drive S to 116th Avenue N, serving Goodwill Industries on Gandy Boulevard along the way.

With an estimated 860,000 riders yearly, it is the PSTA's fourth-busiest route, Nurse said.

A downside is that a change from hourly to half-hourly service for Routes 11 and 38 is on hold, Nurse said.

"Originally it looked to me like we were stepping back on the expansion of PSTA," Nurse said. But the Fourth Street upgrade put a better spin on the plans, he said.

The PSTA board meets 9 a.m. this morning at the PSTA headquarters, 3201 Scherer Drive.

Nurse said he expects a board vote today recommending that money be spent to finish the engineering study on the BRT route in St. Petersburg. The county's Metropolitan Planning Organization will have the final say on approval.