In what has to be the most sweeping change in the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus system in several years, several key routes are slated for a major overhaul in order to improve efficiency and reliability.
For some time now, PSTA has become known for running notoriously long bus routes throughout Pinellas County – especially the various cross-town and cross-county routes. While these routes currently provide a one-seat ride for many customers, they also present a huge challenge by which bus operators must do all they can to keep the bus running on time. This can be impossible to maintain due to the popularity of some of the routes and also roadway construction. Route 19, which runs north-south from southern Pinellas to northern Pinellas via US Hwy 19, is a prime example of how a bus isn’t able to stay on track due to various factors. I’ve rode the 19 several times now, and I’ve personally experienced buses that are running very late. My last southbound trip (in early June) in fact, involved one southbound bus pulling into Clearwater Mall roughly 25 minutes behind schedule. As that bus departed the station, the next southbound bus pulled up right behind it – causing the two buses to bunch within a 5 minute span of each other.
So for the October, 2016 service change cycle; PSTA is proposing to split several routes into multiple segments and re-allign others in order to try and resolve this type of situation, as well as to improve the overall service, efficiency, and reliability of the system. If approved by the PSTA board this week, a total of 11 bus routes, plus the Jolley Trolley Coastal Route will be affected by these changes, and 4 new routes will be created. While I support most of the changes that the agency is proposing, I do have various concerns in which how the changes will affect customers like myself. While I understand that 1) PSTA can only do so much with limited resources, and 2) not everyone will be happy by the changes; PSTA must maintain a balance between streamlining routes and serving their customers efficiently and effectively.
In Part 1 of this series, I will focus on the proposals being presented for Routes 4, 18, 19, and 59, as well as the proposals to create new Routes 9, 16, and 34. In addition to going over each of the changes, I will outline my concerns and suggestions for each route, and share images of the services currently in place . You can view a Google Map showing the various changes being proposed, as well as my suggestions listed (if applicable). Route 18 is not shown on this map because it is not being drastically changed.
Overview: Route 4 is among PSTA’s busiest and most frequently run routes. The current route operates between southern Pinellas (the Pinellas Point area) and the Gateway region (up to 116th St N) every 15 to 30 minutes Monday through Friday, every 30 minutes on Saturdays, and roughly every hour on Sundays. Buses currently travel along 4th St N and 4th St S via the heart of downtown St. Petersburg and the Gateway Mall shopping center. The 4th St corridor is considered to be among the busiest corridors in Pinellas County.
What does PSTA want to do?: While no drastic routing changes are planned for Route 4 during the October, 2016 service change cycle; one change that will occur is a re-routing in the Gateway region. The current looping action along 116th St N and over by the Goodwill Industries Suncoast facility off Gandy Blvd – by which buses alternate trips Monday through Saturday and share on Sundays – will be relegated a new route, Route 16. Instead of conducting the current looping action in the Gateway region, Route 4 will run along the entire stretch of 4th St N between 83rd Ave N and Gandy Blvd. From Gandy Blvd, the route will traverse Roosevelt Blvd to 28th St N/Lake Carillon Dr. Buses will then follow the current track of Route 59 down 118th Ave N and 34th St N, and terminate at the 34th St N transfer center by the PSTA facility.
My opinion: I fully support this change, as the Gateway area looping action is really hurting the reliability of this route. I think that with a route that has a lower frequency serving these loops, the 4 can be able to retain its frequent Monday through Saturday service, and additional resources can go into improving Sunday service – which is currently horrible.
My suggestions: While PSTA might not be able to drastically improve late night and Sunday service at the moment, I do strongly believe that buses should run up until midnight Monday through Friday and up to 11pm on Saturdays. Sunday service should be every 30 minutes from 5am until 10pm.
Overview: Route 18 is one of several north-south cross-county bus routes. It traverses Seminole Blvd (Alt Hwy 19) from Clearwater to Bay Pines, where it serves the VA Hospital. The various other destinations that the 18 serves include the PSTA Park St Terminal in the heart of Downtown Clearwater, Downtown St. Pete, PSTA’s Grand Central Station, Largo Mall, Seminole Mall (which is being redeveloped), and Tyrone Square Mall. On select trips, Heritage Apartments is served.
Route 18 currently operates every 20 to 30 minutes Monday through Friday, every 30 minutes on Saturdays, and every hour on Sundays.
What does PSTA want to do?: PSTA wants to streamline Route 18 to where it remains on Alt Hwy 19, meaning that Largo Mall would only be served by street-side stops and buses would not enter the mall property. The Heritage Apartments runs would also be eliminated under the current proposal.
My opinion: While I support the removal of the bus stops on the Largo Mall property, PSTA needs to consider the customer base at Heritage Apartments. These are mostly lower income seniors who are otherwise unable to get around and many at the public meeting this past Saturday (June 18) expressed disdain over the proposal. Some people have also expressed concern regarding the removal of stops from the Largo Mall property.
My suggestions: I would suggest that PSTA retain the Heritage Apartments runs until they can arrive at common ground with the residents in the area. Either create a Flex van zone or expand the Direct Connect service to this area.
Overview: Route 19 is another north-south cross-county bus route. Created in 1990, the 19 traverses nearly the entire length of US Hwy 19 in Pinellas County. The route currently operates every 20 to 30 minutes Monday through Friday, every 30 minutes on Saturdays, and every hour on Sundays. Despite the popularity of this route, and its connections to key shopping hubs like Shoppes at Park Place and Clearwater Mall, as well as Eckerd College and the Largo Commons WalMart, reliability of the 19 has greatly suffered – due in part to the ongoing construction to make parts of US Hwy 19 a freeway.
What does PSTA want to do?: PSTA wants to split the 19 at the Largo Transit Center, which sits adjacent to the Largo Commons WalMart. The segment north of the transfer center will retain the Route 19 designation, while the segment south of the hub will become Route 34. Scheduling and frequencies will be closely matching to what it is today on the 19, and buses will be timed to meet each other in Largo. Additionally, the northernmost portion of the 19 will extend to Alt Hwy 19 to connect to the Jolley Trolley.
My opinion: I fully support this change, as the 19 today is notoriously long. Splitting the route into two different routes will allow for the corridor to see an expansion of service down the road without further sacrificing efficiency and reliability. Plus, not everyone wants to travel the entire length of the current route.
My suggestions: None, really. Carry forth with the proposal for the 19.
Overview: Route 59 is yet another cross-county route, but it primarily serves Central Pinellas in an east-west direction. Buses travel between Largo and the Gateway region, with a north-south segment traversing Dr. MLK Jr. St N to downtown St. Pete. The 59 is one of a few routes to connect to the gulf coast beaches – stopping just a block away from the Suncoast Beach Trolley route in Indian Rocks Beach. The route currently operates every 20 to 30 minutes Monday through Friday, and hourly on weekends.
What does PSTA want to do? PSTA also wants to split up the 59 so that it can run more frequently along Ulmerton Rd, another corridor that is plagued with almost never-ending road construction. In fact, under the proposal, the 59’s frequency will match that of the Route 4 by having its eastern terminus truncated to the 34th St Transfer Center by the PSTA Facility. The MLK St N segment of the 59 would become the Route 9. Also, the Largo Mall stops would be removed and buses will no longer enter the property.
My opinion: While I think this is great for the east-west portion of the 59, myself and many others who rely on the one-seat convenience of the 59 will be directly impacted. I don’t personally mind having to transfer at Gateway Mall to another route, but my mainline concern is being able to get home from work in the evening – something that I have voiced twice to PSTA during the public comment process. I don’t want to wind up being stranded at Gateway Mall because the last connecting bus has left for the evening.
My suggestions: I do support the removal of the bus stops on the Largo Mall property. Please see the Route 9 section to read my suggestions regarding that route.
Overview: Route 9 would take over the segment of Route 59 that currently runs from downtown St. Pete to Gateway Mall via Dr. MLK Jr. St N (also known as 9th St N). The route would run hourly service seven days a week.
My concerns: There are many people who currently rely on the 59’s frequent weekday service to get to and from work and school. Decreasing service to every hour along the MLK St N corridor is just ridiculous! Also, the route needs to have its northern terminus at the 34th St Transfer Center by the PSTA Facility and not Gateway Mall. Otherwise, those who use the 59 to get the the Gateway Commons Shopping Center or Jabil Circuit would be forced to transfer at Gateway Mall via the 4, 16, or 58.
My suggestions: Run the Route 9 between downtown St. Pete and the PSTA 34th St Transfer Center every 20 to 30 minutes Monday through Friday and maintain current weekend service. Also, have the buses run until at least 9:00pm on weekdays.
Overview: Route 16 would take over the segment of Route 74 that currently runs from downtown St. Pete to Gateway Mall via 16th St N, and the looping action in the Gateway region that is currently operated by Route 4. The route would run every 30 minutes Monday through Friday, but it is unclear what weekend service would be at the moment.
My concerns: None that I can think of.
My suggestions: None, really. Carry forth with the proposal to create the 16.
Overview: Route 34 would take over the segment of Route 19 that currently runs south of the Largo Transit Center. Frequencies would closely match what the 19 operates as today, and buses would be timed to meet up with each other at the transit center.
My concerns: None that I can think of.
My suggestions: None, really. Carry forth with the proposal to create the 34.
Note: Route 74 will be discussed in Part 3 of this series.
Please refer to PSTA’s documents provided in this post for a full overview of the proposals. The proposals will be voted on this upcoming Wednesday, June 22, 2016 during the 9:00AM June Board Meeting. The meeting will be held at the PSTA Facility Boardroom – 3201 Scherer Dr, St. Petersburg, FL 33716. If you are unable to attend, you can send an email with your concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information, you can call PSTA at (727) 540-1900.
Part 2 of the series will cover changes proposed for PSTA Routes 61, 62, 66, and 67. Part 3 will cover PSTA Route 74, the PSTA North County Connector Routes, and the Jolley Trolley.