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St. Petersburg will fund bus rides for low-income residents

$175,000 a year in city funding will close a gap that left Transportation Disadvantaged participants paying a few dollars a month.
 
The SunRunner pulls up to the St. Pete Beach stop as the sun rises on its first day of service last year. The rapid bus line, like all other Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority routes, will soon be free to ride for St. Petersburg residents who participate in the transit authority's Transportation Disadvantaged program.
The SunRunner pulls up to the St. Pete Beach stop as the sun rises on its first day of service last year. The rapid bus line, like all other Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority routes, will soon be free to ride for St. Petersburg residents who participate in the transit authority's Transportation Disadvantaged program. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 10, 2023|Updated Oct. 10, 2023

Low-income St. Petersburg residents who don’t have access to cars will be able to take public transit for free throughout Pinellas County starting next month.

Last week, the St. Petersburg City Council unanimously approved $175,000 in city funding for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The money will go toward the transit authority’s Transportation Disadvantaged program, which provides reduced-cost services for residents who don’t have other options to get to work, medical appointments or other essential destinations. Households that make less than 200% of the federal poverty level — or about $29,000 a year for a single person, or $60,000 for a family of four — are eligible.

The program mostly relies on state funding — it got more than $4 million from Florida last year, St. Petersburg’s transportation and parking management director, Evan Mory, told council members last week. But that support still leaves a bill for participants: $11 for an unlimited 31-day pass, or $5 for unlimited rides on 10 nonconsecutive days. The city funding will cover that cost for St. Petersburg residents who use the program.

“The cost, while it’s low, is still a barrier, so we’d like to bring down that barrier,” Mory said.

Covering that gap for all St. Petersburg residents in the program would cost about $136,000, Mory said, but the city hopes making the program free will encourage more people to participate. The funding will continue through late 2025, with an option for the city to renew it for another two years. The city’s contribution will remain at $175,000 per year, though the City Council could vote to increase funding.

The funding wasn’t the only transit subsidy the City Council considered in its recent budget season. It was also poised to offer a subsidy that would have kept the SunRunner, the rapid bus line connecting downtown and St. Pete Beach, free to ride for another year. That idea was scrapped after St. Pete Beach officials and residents complained about homeless riders, leading the transit authority to impose fares on the route this month, earlier than anticipated.

The city funding for Transportation Disadvantaged goes into effect Nov. 1. Those interested in applying for the program can find out more at psta.net/programs. The application requires proof of income, and only St. Petersburg residents are eligible for free participation. Social service organizations can vouch for homeless residents who don’t have a fixed address.

Editor’s note: Evan Mory is St. Petersburg’s transportation and parking management director. This story has been updated to correct his title.