1. Transportation

St. Pete Beach draws line in sand over buses

St. Pete Beach officials are negotiating with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority over proposed bus rapid transit routes. [Courtesy of St. Pete Beach]
St. Pete Beach officials are negotiating with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority over proposed bus rapid transit routes. [Courtesy of St. Pete Beach]
Published Jun. 5, 2019

ST. PETE BEACH — The city may soon kick the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses out of town and start up its own mini-transit service to shuttle visitors and local business employees to hotels, the beaches, and other destinations throughout the city.

"Personally, I'd like to see us take over everything on the island. We can have trolleys come onto the island and drop everybody off at 75th Avenue and leave and we'll take it from there," Mayor Alan Johnson said last week to loud applause from an overflow audience of vocal residents.

A City Commission majority agreed that running their own "right sized" transit service would be the best solution "for the good of the city."

The road toward creating such a city-run transit service will take months to become reality and must pass through a series of hurdles.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Pete Beach: PSTA misled feds about bus rapid transit project

Tuesday, residents will again be able to weigh in on the issue during the commission's regular meeting when the PSTA plans to make a special presentation about the so far rejected proposal to bring a bus rapid transit service to St. Pete Beach.

As proposed, the service would involve four 60-foot buses in addition to the three regular 40-foot buses that currently serve the city, more than doubling the number of buses on Gulf Boulevard.

The rapid-transit buses originally were to bring passengers all the way from downtown St. Petersburg to Pass-A-Grille, but that was shortened during recent negotiations to a terminus at Carillo Avenue near the Don Cesar Hotel.

The next scheduled discussion about the city's transit service will be held July 9 when the commission plans to simultaneously review a redrafted resolution against the rapid transit plan and a proposed local agreement with the PSTA.

The commission has repeatedly voiced its strenuous opposition for nearly three years to any expansion of the PSTA system into the 6-mile long beach city.

The latest and loudest opposition began several months ago when the City Commission instructed its staff to create a resolution opposing the latest PSTA proposal.

Each of the commission's meetings in the past six weeks has prompted repeated opposition from residents.

Last week, the commission chambers were again overflowing with angry residents who began booing whenever it seemed the commission might be considering approving the PSTA proposal.

"I think we need a bus service here, particularly a link to downtown," Johnson said at one point and quickly added at another that "I don't want to see any more buses on the street".

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher questioned several times whether the city would be wiser to sign an agreement with the PSTA to maintain its ability to negotiate in the future.

Since Gulf Boulevard is a state road and the Florida Department of Transportation is a partner with the PSTA in seeking a federal grant for implementing a bus rapid transit system in the county, the city has no way to prevent it being implemented in St. Pete Beach, according to the city's attorney, Andrew Dickman.

However, the commission could try to end regular bus service in the city by cancelling its $570,000 annual payment to the PSTA.

Another option would be for any PSTA-operated bus service, including the beach trolley, to be terminated at 75th Avenue in the city's downtown where passengers would transfer to city-run mini-buses.