Something that I don’t talk about too often via a blog post is bus fleet changes. And for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), there’s been a ton going on recently – old buses leaving, new buses arriving or on order, and sadly…buses getting into accidents.
First and foremost, let’s begin with the oldest fleet of buses in the PSTA fleet, the 2001-series 40′ Gillig Low Floors. These buses were true powerhouses back when they were new. One of my bus operator friends loved to drive them regularly in fact because of how they drove. While many of them still ran good up until 2016, the usual reliability issues came into play and the lifespan of a few – including #2109 – exceeded 15 years. Because of this, the 2100s were utilized solely as contingency spares (in the event that another bus broke down) after 2015. Many had been retired in 2016 and 2017, but a few – including #2109 – remained on the roster through the beginning of 2018. In fact, I last spotted #2109 on contingency duty as recently as April of 2018.
Since June of 2018, I’ve noticed that all of the remaining 2100s are no longer going out on the road. This can only mean that they’ve been officially decommissioned in preparation for the arrival of 9 new 2018-series 35′ Gillig Low Floors and 2 new 2018-series 35′ BYD K9 Battery Electric buses. The Gillig order will be virtually identical to the 2017-series buses that hit the road last year. In addition to the 11 new buses, 8 new 2018-series 27′ Freightliner Defender cutaway vans have arrived – slated to replace the aging 2002 and 2005 29′ Gillig Low Floors that are currently in use on the North County Connector routes. The original order of 2012 27′ Ford E450 cutaway vans were retired early in 2015 due to various mechanical defects – thus resulting in the holdover of the 2002 and 2005 “baby” Gilligs.
With all of these new vehicles coming into the fleet, it made sense to completely phase out the 2100s to make room at the yard for them. In addition, the 9 remaining 2002-series 40′ Gillig Low Floors – which have also been running contingency duty – will be slowly phased out of the fleet over the next year to make way for 9 more 35′ Gillig Low Floor buses and 2 more 35′ BYD K9 buses (both 2019 models). In 2020, PSTA is slated to order 6 more 35′ Gilligs and now there are 2 more 35′ BYDs on the list due to another wave of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) “Lo-No” funds that were granted to the agency just last month. This makes a grand total of 38 buses that will be coming to the PSTA fleet – mostly to replace older vehicles that have exceeded their useful lives.
Now, let me go ahead and get into the last part of this post, since I’ve discussed both the old and the new buses. I have to now bring up the ugly – which is that several PSTA buses were recently involved in accidents. Bus # 15104 (a 2015 40′ Gillig Low Floor hybrid with the BRT design) was rear-ended by a municipal garbage truck last year while finishing a run on route 59 and has been out of service since. The PSTA board recently voted to allow the agency to have the bus hauled off to Tavares, FL – where Coach Crafters will make the necessary repairs to get the bus back in tip top shape for revenue service. See board meeting agenda (item 5E).
The second incident to note involved #2706 back in June of 2018. The bus operator apparently suffered a medical episode and wound up crashing the bus into a concrete utility pole – but not before a good Samaritan jumped aboard the bus to try to stop it. Miraculously, there were no other vehicles involved in the incident, no contact with pedestrians, and no other major property damage. However, due to substantial front-end damage to the bus caused by the collision with the utility pole, it will be out of service for quite a while. I’m not sure if #2706 will follow the same fate as #15104.
Regardless of the incident, any kind of accident involving a transit bus puts strain on the overall fleet because operational spares have to be used more often when breakdowns occur. Just the other day, I saw half of the 2200s out in revenue service to fill in for those buses who had either broken down or were involved in recent accidents.
As I wrap up this post, I want to give a quick shout out to transitaddict327 for giving me inspiration to create this post. I invite you to read up on his blog about the VIA Metropolitan Transit system in San Antonio, TX.