1. Transportation

Pinellas bus riders can now grab a $1 Uber or taxi ride from their bus stops

Published Jan. 19, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Riding the bus in Pinellas County just got a whole lot easier.

Transit agencies have always struggled with what's known as the "first-mile, last-mile" problem — how to get riders from the bus stop to their final destination, whether it's their home, the office or even the grocery store.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Agency will attempt to meet that challenge with a new county-wide partnership with Uber, United Taxi and Wheelchair Transport that was announced Thursday. The bus agency will help subsidize those services to take people from the bus stop to their final destinations for about a $1.

PSTA said it is the first transit agency in the country to partner with a ridershare company in this manner.

"This is the future of transit," PSTA CEO Brad Miller said.

The program, known as Direct Connect, is an expansion of a pilot project PSTA rolled out last February in East Lake and Pinellas Park. The pilot was successful enough that PSTA will now subsidize Uber and cab rides for bus patrons throughout the county.

Those who don't want to take an Uber can call United Taxi. Wheelchair Transport is also part of the program, making it accessible for people with disabilities.

Here's how it works: The county is divided into eight zones. Each one has a designated stop that is a transit hub for multiple routes. Trips must be within the zone and start or end at the designated bus stop, which is usually within five miles.

People can access the discounted ride directly in their Uber apps. If they're already at the station, they'll type in their destination, and if it's within the zone, the PSTA discount will be the first option that pops up.

If they're on their way to the station, they'll initially see traditional options on the app such as UberX and UberSelect. But swipe to the right, and the PSTA fare will appear.

Warning: The app will tell riders the fare before the discount, usually around $5.95. But if they pick the PSTA option, the bus agency covers the first $5, meaning most people will pay about a dollar for their ride.

"It's been a God-send, really," said Sue Keating, who has been using the program since the pilot started last year. "Not having to muscle groceries and things like that while walking 15-minutes in the summer heat has been so nice."

Her son Kyle Keating, 32, sometimes uses Direct Connect to get home when he works late. Instead of having to walk a couple miles or paying $8 to 12 for an Uber to get home from work, he can take the bus to Pinellas Park for $2.25 and then grab a $1 Uber ride home.

Miller is hoping Direct Connect will entice more people who to use the bus who don't normally do so, but are also looking for a cheaper alternative to Uber or a taxi.

"It's a whole new market of potential bus riders," Miller said. "We want a way to attract people who were just planning to use Uber but want a cheaper way to get there. Can I get a discounted Uber ride combined with the bus to save money?"

The program also allows PSTA to expand its coverage without the additional expense of adding bus routes. PSTA has allocated $100,000 for the first six months of the county-wide program. By comparison, the old East Lake connector cost $150,000 to run plus the cost of the bus. But that low-performing route was replaced in February by the pilot program.

Transit agencies are increasingly investing in these kinds of private-public partnerships to help alleviate their constrained budgets and reduced federal funding. This is especially problematic for Tampa Bay's transit agencies, where two transportation sales tax referendums have been defeated since 2010 and a third couldn't even make it onto the ballot last year.

"It just does not make sense to run an $800,000 bus to every corner of Pinellas County," Miller said. "If we can work out these arrangements with Uber and taxi companies in more suburban, low-density areas ... then we can run the buses we have on the major corridors of Pinellas County."

Across the bay, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is also working to provide a first-mile, last-mile solution for its riders, known as HyperLINK.

For a $3 flat fee, riders can take a van to a designated bus stop within a 3-mile radius. The pilot program currently operates with three stations: the University Area Transit Center near the University of South Florida, a stop at W Fletcher Avenue and N Dale Mabry Highway stop and one at the Westfield Brandon mall.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.


  1. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The driver’s injuries appear non-life threatening, and a suspect is in custody.
  2. Travelers make their way to baggage claim at Orlando International Airport in August. Officials expect 1.75 million passengers to pass through the airport during the Thanksgiving holiday season.
    Officials at Orlando International Airport on Monday said they expect traffic to increase 6% from 2018.
  3. More than 800 rear-seat passengers who weren’t wearing seat belts were killed last year in U.S. traffic crashes.
  4. MSC Cruises brought the MSC Meraviglia to Port Miami to begin its first-ever season of sailing from Florida. The 171,598-gross-ton, 4,500-passenger vessel is tied with a sister ship as the 7th largest ship in the world. MSC CRUISES
    Meraviglia, which means “wonder” in Italian, debuted in 2017, and has among unique offerings a 450-person venue for original Cirque du Soleil shows.
  5. Much work has been completed on the Selmon Extension project, but we still have a way to go before the construction and ongoing detours on Gandy Boulevard end by the projected fall 2020 completion date. MONIQUE WELCH  |  Monique Welch | Times
    The ongoing project along Gandy Boulevard began in February but still has a lot of work left before its projected fall 2020 completion date.
  6. Dade City wants to put its planned bicycle hub in a city park near Church and Eighth streets adjoining the trailhead of the Roy Hardy Trail. The land already has been designated as the future home of a splash pad. Dade City
    A planned welcome center for cycling enthusiasts originally had been slated for a historic train depot
  7. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  8. Nov. 14• Associated Press
    A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in Thursday afternoon at the station in Fort Lauderdale. [Emily Michot/Miami Herald]
    Brightline trains have killed more than a dozen people since 2017.
  9. Florida had 381,300 jobs in the manufacturing sector in September. [Times 2016]
    No matter how many times you hear that the country doesn’t make anything anymore, don’t believe it.
  10. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is lit up in patriotic red white and blue colors in honor of Veteran's Day 2019. This view is shot from Skyway Beach looking south. Shot with a 400mm f4.0 lens with an ISO of 100 at F11 with a 10 second exposure. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Tampa Bay Times
    FDOT engineers switched on a patriotic theme in a colorful tribute to veterans.