In Part 2 of Transit Tourism – New York City Transit Excursion 2017, I am going to document my departure out of Tampa. Now, usually, my trips to Tampa International Airport aren’t much to write about – mainly because of the fact that Tampa Bay’s transit system is so inadequate. It’s even more pitiful when a world class airport like Tampa’s, is only served by one bus route – Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Route 30. Now, It’s been envisioned for a while to have a small transit hub on Tampa International Airport property, but previous plans fell through due to budgetary constraints and changing climates in the airport’s expansion plans. Fast forward to the present, and the airport is undergoing the largest expansion project ever to date. In the coming months, I’ll be making another update to my Tampa International Airport page – which will include photos of the terminal as of May/June 2017. Phase 2 of the airport expansion will include accommodations for HART buses to layover by the Consolidated Rental Car Facility – which would end the practice of buses going through the terminal loop roadway. Customers would instead get off the bus at the rental car center and take a SkyConnect train to the main terminal.
Now, to get back to the purpose of this post; instead of having my mom drop me off at the airport, or taking a taxi (the latter which costs a lot more than what I wanted to spend on transportation), I decided to take HART from my mom’s house in South Tampa to the airport via Routes 19, 36, & 30. Route 19 currently operates every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour on weekends between Port Tampa City in South Tampa and Downtown Tampa’s Marion Transit Center. The 19 also serves Britton Plaza, Memorial Hospital, the Hyde Park district, and Tampa General Hospital. Buses south of Britton Plaza currently split into two segments, running roughly every hour; Manhattan Ave and WestShore Blvd. Route 36 currently traverses Dale Mabry Hwy and Himes Ave between South Tampa via Britton Plaza and Carrollwood by Fletcher Ave. The 36 runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour on weekends. Finally, Route 30, which serves the airport, runs along Kennedy Blvd from Marion Transit Center to WestShore Blvd, passing by WestShore Plaza and International Plaza malls before arriving at the terminal. Buses continue onward to the Northwest Transfer Center in Town-N-Country, and operate every 30 minutes all day, all week. Under HART’s system reorganization plan, all three routes are slated for major revisions.
While it’s not necessarily easy to get to the airport via transit given the fact that Tampa Bay’s transit system is so inadequate, it is not necessarily impossible either if everything falls into place just right. While planning out my trip to New York, I heavily took transit accessibility into consideration and chose a flight out of Tampa that would not be so early in the morning by which I wouldn’t be able to use the bus to get to the terminal, but also not so late in the day by which I would not be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Big Apple during the same day. I also wanted to ensure that I would be able to connect between the airport in New York and wherever I was staying. The itinerary that I ultimately chose for my flight to New York was one by which the flight out of Tampa would depart at 8:30am and arrive in Washington D.C. (Reagan National Airport) by around 10:45am. My connecting flight out of D.C. would then depart at 12-noon and arrive at New York’s LaGuardia Airport by 1:30pm. This allowed me to plan my bus rides from South Tampa to TPA Airport in a manner by which I would enjoy seamless connections and relatively light traffic on the roads. Even though I had to get up early the morning of May 9, I was more than ready to head out that morning to catch my bus and flight. Best of all, I didn’t have to worry about parking fees or taxi fares, or having a family member drop me off. I left my car at my mom’s house, purchased a 3-day Flamingo Fare via the Flamingo Fares Tampa Bay App, and was able to relax and post on Facebook while on the bus. Below is an illustration showing the HART buses I took.
Now before I go into each route, I will go ahead and clear something up that I know some of you will ask me. I purchased a 3-Day Flamingo Fare because I used HART on May 7 and May 8, in addition to May 9. I did this for two reasons; first, so that I would not have to hassle with locating parking in Ybor City or Downtown Tampa, and second, so I wouldn’t have to pay for each bus ride or purchase three separate day passes. May 7 happened to fall during the 2017 RiverFest, which was held along the Downtown Tampa RiverWalk. This family-friendly event featured food, entertainment, and all sorts of activities for everyone to enjoy! As with many Downtown Tampa events, parking is always a challenge, so I parked my car at Britton Plaza and took the 19 to Downtown to check out the festivities. On May 8, I parked in Downtown near the Marion Transit Center and took Route 8 to the HART Ybor City offices for a sit-down discussion with Sandra Morrison – HART’s Public Information Officer, and Marco Sandusky – HART’s Senior Manager of EEO and Community Programs. During our meeting, we discussed HART’s planned restructuring and what suggestions that I had in regards to various routes that are slated to be changed. We definitely had a wonderful discussion and I look forward to future transit conversations with them.
Route 19 – Manhattan Ave Branch to Britton Plaza
My journey to New York kicked off at around 4:00am. My duffel bag and backpack were ready to go the night before, and all I really had to do was get ready for the day ahead. Once I was all set to go (about 5:05am), I double checked my backpack for my boarding passes and then walked over to the bus stop. I managed to arrive at the bus stop just shy of 5:20am, which was the time that the first Route 19 bus to Downtown would depart from Port Tampa City. HART bus #1602 (a 2016 40-foot Gillig Low Floor CNG) arrived on time, and I was able to board without any issues with my Flamingo pass. I took my seat near the front of the bus and enjoyed the fifteen-minute ride to Britton Plaza. The bus actually arrived at the plaza a couple of minutes early, so I was able to have a little extra time at the plaza to eat my egg sandwiches that I prepared the day before. During my wait for Route 36, I saw Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus #2309 pull in, the last 2003 Motor Coach Industries (MCI) coach that was still in service for Route 100X. PSTA has slowly been phasing out its ten 2003 coaches since 2015 due to their age and rising cost to maintain them. Until funding avenues can be found for replacement coaches, standard Gillig Low Floor buses are being used as fill-ins for the 100X and 300X. My feeling is that PSTA may eventually purchase a fleet of 40-foot Gillig Low Floor suburban style buses that offer high-back reclining seats and luggage racks. Such buses are currently used at Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) for their Route 100X service. #2309 was pulled from service after May 19, 2017, and is awaiting official retirement.
Route 36 – Dale Mabry Hwy to Kennedy Blvd
HART bus #1004 (a 2010 40-foot Gillig Low Floor Diesel) arrived at Britton Plaza at approximately 5:50am. I quickly boarded and took a seat towards the middle of the bus. My ride was quite enjoyable, just like my ride on Route 19, with little traffic on the roads to delay the bus. While I was concerned that at least one trip would go haywire somehow, that fortunately did not happen. The ride on the 36 in fact, only took about nine minutes and the bus arrived at the stop on Dale Mabry Hwy at Kennedy Blvd on time. The clock had just struck 6:00am as I got off to cross the intersection and proceed to the Route 30 westbound stop.
Route 30 – Kennedy Blvd to TPA Airport
The walk to the Route 30 westbound stop along Kennedy Blvd by Church St took me about ten minutes. Once at the stop, I had until about 6:25am before the Route 30 bus arrived. During my wait, I saw the South Tampa Flex van (#4505) pull up and pick up a passenger. She was the only person to board the van and was the only passenger on board the van when it left. Both the Route 19 and 36 buses had only a handful of passengers on board, which was typical for an early morning trip. Buses typically don’t begin to crowd up midway through the route until around 6:30am, though the Route 36 bus did have a few more passengers on board than the 19 bus did. When #1215 (a 2012 Gillig Low Floor Diesel, which replaced 2000 Gillig Low Floor Diesel #2005) arrived, the bus was pretty crowded, so I was only able to take a seat after a standing passenger at the front of the bus got off a few stops down Kennedy. The bus continued to fill up with passengers until it was almost standing room only. During the fifteen-minute bus ride to the airport, I browsed the web and also posted a few things to Facebook. Like many transit agencies, HART buses are equipped with complimentary WiFi access to allow passengers to browse the web and social media without eating up their data plans. When I got off at the TPA Airport stop, which is located on the north (or Red) side of the Baggage Claim area, the clock read 6:38am, another on time arrival for HART!
Traversing TPA Airport
It took me only a few minutes to walk from the Baggage Claim level to the Shuttle level. For those unfamiliar with TPA Airport’s unique layout (only Orlando International Airport possess a similar layout to Tampa’s), level 1 of the main terminal (also known as the Landside Terminal) is for Baggage Claim. Level 2 is Ticketing and Check-In (of course I checked in online since I was not checking any bags in), and level 3 is where the shops, restaurants, and airside shuttles are located. Boarding and deboarding of planes take place at the airsides, by which passengers will take a people mover shuttle between the main terminal and the airside. SkyConnect will be a people mover line as well – connecting the main terminal to the southeast parking garage and the rental car center. To learn more about TPA Airport, you can visit their website. Also be sure to check out Orlando International’s website if you plan on flying into City Beautiful soon.
Once I arrived at the shuttle station to go to the airside (about 6:45am), I noticed that only one shuttle per airside was in service. During the construction process at the terminal complex, each airside is operating one shuttle instead of two. This is to allow modifications to be made to each of the shuttle bays. In the case with Airside E, both shuttle bays will be relocated so that more space can be made for shops and restaurants. Once the work wraps up next year or so, both shuttles will return to service at each airside. And by the way, the shuttle trip only takes about a minute to complete, which is very convenient versus airport terminals that follow a more traditional layout with long concourses. Security screening wasn’t too bad either and the lines weren’t terribly long. Every time I enter an airport to catch a flight, I’m always concerned that security screening will take a long time. However, on my last fight to New York in 2011, the lines weren’t very long either. At most, it was only about fifteen minutes. By the time I arrived at my gate, it was 7:00am – an hour of relaxation before boarding call!
I will continue my journey to LaGuardia in Part 3 of the series. However, I am going to also talk about the transit system in Washington D.C. and why I’m wary of ever using it. I will also talk about the shuttle buses at Reagan National Airport, so please stay tuned!
It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a Transit Tourism post, and I really haven’t been able to get this series off the ground due to other priorities. However, I’m sure that many of you have seen at least one photo or video of my recent travels through New York City, and I want to be able to share my experiences with you. I’ve actually taken three trips now to the Big Apple – one in April of 1997, the second in March of 2011, and the third – and most recent one – in May of 2017.
My 1997 trip was for a family wedding, and I truly enjoyed being able to spend time with them and also do a lot of sightseeing. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos documenting my transit rides from 1997 because the camera that my father was carrying got lost during our trip, and thus 95% of the photos we took had vanished forever. I can tell you though that we rode the (7) train between Flushing – Main St and Times Square – 42nd St quite a lot. It was our main avenue between Queens and Manhattan since my dad didn’t want to battle the busy Manhattan traffic all the time. Back in 1997, the famed “Redbird” trains – dating back to the 1964 World’s Fair and before – were still running along the (7). It would not be until a year later that the New York MTA would announce that all of the “Redbirds” would be replaced by sleek, modern R-142 and R-142A railcars.
In 2011, I made a return trip to New York City via Newark to visit my family and to do another round of sightseeing. Since most of my stay was devoted to family time, I didn’t place a huge emphasis on transit fanning, and thus did not take a lot of photos of the buses and trains. I was, however, able to ride the (6), (J), and (R) trains through lower and midtown Manhattan, as well as take the PATH Subway from Exchange Place into Manhattan, and also ride a New Jersey Transit bus from Manhattan to Fort Lee, NJ. You can find my 2011 transit photo collection (though a small one) on my Facebook Page. I will have those same photos copied over to the website as I build my New York City Transit sections.
So what brought me back to New York City this year? Well, to keep things short; my stepfather travels on business a lot and he had a flight voucher that he was no longer going to use, so he offered it to me. I then pondered, what destinations could I use the voucher for? It didn’t take me very long to decide on the Big Apple, and why not? I was originally not planning on traveling to New York again until around 2020. But with the South Ferry Loop closing down by July in favor of the “newer” rebuilt station, I wanted to make sure that I was able to photograph a piece of New York City Transit history before it gets riddled in graffiti. Since I wanted to be close to the transit action in Manhattan, I decided to stay at the Morningside Inn, located on 207th St in the Morningside Heights district of Manhattan. The district sits between the Hudson River and the northwest section of Central Park and is just a stone’s throw away from Columbia University. The district also serves as the western terminus for the M60 Select Bus Service line from LaGuardia Airport, and one can easily transfer over to the (1) train via the 103rd St or 110th St (Cathedral Pkwy) stations.
In addition to spending some time with my relatives in NJ again, I made sure to make visits to the Bronx Zoo, the World Trade Center memorial park, and also the New York Transit Museum. I also managed to make two trips to Coney Island (though I did not stay there for very long). Overall, my trip was very enjoyable, even though it was shorter in duration than my 2011 trip (my 2011 trip included six full days whereas my 2017 trip only included three full days). However, I was able to accomplish quite a bit in the course of four days, including the above, plus rides on the (1), (2), (3), (6), (7), (B), (F), (G), (J), (L), (N), (Q), (R), (W), and (Z) trains, plus the 42nd St Shuttle in midtown Manhattan. In addition, I took a ride on five MTA bus lines – the Bx12-SBS, the Q44-SBS, the M60-SBS, the M72 Crosstown, and the M79 Crosstown – as well as a round trip on the PATH Subway between 33rd St and Newport (formerly known as Pavonia-Newport).
If you’d like to see all of the transit lines that I’ve traversed during my three trips to New York, please view the map below. In the coming weeks, I will be putting forth subsequent episodes detailing segments of my 2017 trip and what I was able to observe.
You’ll see in the map that I’ve documented all transit lines that I’ve been on, including ones during my previous two trips. The neat thing about Google Maps is that you can customize the map (through the Google My Maps interface) by drawing lines and such, and then adding in different layers. I especially like the layers because you can show which ones you want to view, so if you only want to view the lines I took during my 2017 trip, you can simply uncheck the boxes for my 1997 and 2011 trips.
This week, I am beginning a new transit fan series called PSTA Adventures. This series will focus on my periodic trips around Pinellas County using the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (or PSTA) bus system.
Before I go in depth into my inaugural post, I would like to first provide some background as to why I am beginning this particular series at this time. I know that some of you will probably want to ask me, “Why not start something like this on the HART bus system?”. The answer is very simple; I now reside in St. Petersburg and am aiming by the end of the year to reduce my dependency on a car. I made this cross-bay move from South Tampa to be closer to my day job – which is situated in the Carillon Business Park. I lived in South Tampa since 1991, but have had to deal with long and strenuous commutes since 2010 – many of which were exceeding 45 minutes in each direction. Now my work commutes are no more than 15 minutes each way, which dramatically cuts down on fuel consumption.
My goal is that by the end of the year, I will be purchasing a folding bike – yes, a folding bike – to be able to further decrease my car usage and be able to use public transit more regularly. I am very much interested in folding bikes because, 1) they are a space saver – especially for those (like me) who live in a relatively small apartment unit, and 2) because transit agencies are gradually taking notice of folding bikes and are allowing them to be brought on board the bus or train – given that the bikes are folded up properly before boarding, and that they are kept clear of aisles and doors. I am very happy to say that both PSTA and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (or HART) both allow folding bikes on board their buses. Just be sure to adhere to what I just mentioned, or the operator will be giving you unpleasant looks when you board. I don’t want to see you get into any trouble because you didn’t properly fold your bike or your bike was blocking an aisle or door.
With this said, let’s begin our journey on board PSTA!
Since April of 2014, my fellow transit blogger and friend Zachary Ziegler – known to many as Transit509 – had been considering another visit to the Tampa Bay Area. His first visit was back in 2012, where he was able to hop aboard the HART and PSTA bus systems with former HART bus operator Jason Eames – also known as YoBusDriver. In fact, you can read Zac’s previous post about his experience on the PSTA system by going on over to his website, transit509.com. Shortly thereafter, Jason wrote up his own post at his blog, which I also encourage you to read. Both of these posts will give you some good insight as to what they experienced on their previous PSTA bus adventure and will serve as a precursor to the post that I am presenting to you today.
As Zac’s itinerary was confirmed, we began to talk about which bus routes we wanted to travel on. Because both Zac and Jason had seen the Park Street Terminal in Clearwater on their last trip, they thought it would be best to focus this trip on the routes that serve Williams Park and the Grand Central Terminal – both of which are located in St. Petersburg. This plan I definitely did not mind, since I myself had seen the Park Street Terminal several times, and have already taken some photos of the buses that were laying over at the moment. Plus, I had not seen the Grand Central Terminal in person yet, so this would be a perfect opportunity to do so.
When the morning of our bus adventure finally arrived, which was Wednesday, August 12, 2015, I drove on down to CVS Pharmacy to pick up a one-day PSTA GO Card, which is the mag-stripe bus pass that PSTA uses. HART names their bus passes HARTride Passes, which is partially where I got my blogger identity from. PSTA began a partnership with CVS back in 2013 by which CVS would be able to sell certain Go Cards at regular price. In fact, many transit agencies work hard to strike up such agreements with merchants; both national chains and locally-owned businesses, to allow transit pass/card sales so that customers have more choices and flexibility on where they can purchase their next bus or train fare. PSTA and HART currently have similar agreements with many Amscot locations, as well as other select check cashing vendors, gift shops, and other local merchants. I highly recommend that you check with your transit agency to see if they sell transit passes/cards at third party locations.
Meeting Up and Breakfast
Being that it was a weekday, we knew that many bus routes would be operating at their peak during the morning hours. Route 74, which runs nearby where I live, operates on a 20 to 30-minute headway during the weekdays, but runs more sporadically on weekends. Route 74 currently connects the Indian Rocks Shopping Center to the Shoppes at Park Place via Park and Gandy Boulevards. The route then takes a turn onto MLK St N to connect to the Gateway Shopping Center (known to many locals as Gateway Mall, as the open-air shopping complex was once the site of a traditional enclosed shopping mall). The route then travels down 77th Ave N and 16th St N towards Williams Park in downtown St. Pete. The Route 74 trip that I was able to take was set to arrive at my bus stop at about 7:37am, by which required me to leave my apartment no later than 7:05am, being that the stop was about a 15 minute walk down the road leading to Gandy Blvd.
As I walked towards my bus stop, I periodically checked the time by which my bus was scheduled to arrive. For this bus adventure, I heavily relied on PSTA’s “Real Time” system, which debuted back in 2012. This GPS based bus arrival and tracker system is extremely useful to many customers, and the same interface is currently used by Sarasota County Area Transit in Sarasota, FL, the Chicago CTA in Chicago, IL, the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority in Williamsburg, VA, just to name a few. If you want to check out “Real Time” for yourself, simply type ridepsta.net into your web browser’s URL bar.
Upon arriving at my bus stop, I saw a westbound Route 74 bus passing by – a 2006-series 40-foot Gillig Low Floor, #2601. These buses are very similar in nature to the 2006-series 40-foot Gillig Low Floor buses that HART has. While the interior seating layout and styling vary, the bus fleets are similar to that they both feature “frameless windows”, meaning that the exterior window panes are squared instead of oval. I tried to get a good photo of it, but a sign was in the way. Nonetheless, I decided to keep the photo, which you can see on my Facebook Page, and soon on the PSTA section of my website. By the time that the westbound bus had passed, there was only about 7 minutes left before the eastbound bus would arrive to take me to Gateway Mall, so I took this opportunity to take a few more photos of my surroundings.
The eastbound bus that I wound up boarding was one of the 35-foot 2010-series Gillig Low Floor BRT-style hybrids, #10104. Since their debut in 2009, PSTA’s hybrid-electric bus fleet – which are branded as “The Smartbus” – have been steadily growing. In fact, the hybrid fleet has gone from the agency’s initial purchase of 24 buses from 2009 to 61 buses as of July, 2015, that’s about 30% of the agency’s roughly 200 buses that are currently on the roster. While 2016 presents a huge challenge for PSTA, as a federal grant that previously went to purchasing the hybrids is no longer available, the agency is still heavily committed to exploring buses that use alternative methods of propulsion. The agency hosted back in May of 2015, a demo of the Proterra Catalyst battery electric bus, and more recently on August 31, 2015, a demo of the Complete Coach Works ZEPS Electric Bus; the latter of which Zac has previously blogged on. Zac has also blogged on the BYD (Build Your Dreams) Zero-Emissions transit bus, which will demo at PSTA’s headquarters on September 14, 2015.
It did not take long for the bus to travel to Gateway Mall – only about 10 minutes to be exact – and the bus still was able to arrive relatively on time. Being that I had about 15 minutes to spare before Zac and Jason were scheduled to arrive via Route 100X from Tampa, I took a few photos of the bus loading bays along 77th Ave N. I then went into Office Depot to purchase a portable cell phone charger, which I did at the strong advice of my fellow transit photographer and blogger Anthony Nachor. I’m very glad that I made the purchase because I was able to intermittently charge my phone so that I was in-turn…able to take photos through most of my transit adventure. By the time that 8:00am had arrived, and the doors to Office Depot had opened, Zac and Jason had already arrived, thinking that my bus had arrived later than usual. With that said, it only took me three minutes to get in and out of Office Depot, allowing us a couple of minutes to transfer to the 8:05am eastbound Route 59 trip towards downtown St. Pete.
For breakfast, I suggested that we stop off at Trip’s Diner, which was along the way on MLK St N. I previously had breakfast and lunch there and the food is quite good at reasonable prices. While we were waiting for our food to be served, we talked about various topics – both transit and non-transit related, as well as prepared our cameras and phones for the adventure ahead. We all found it very fascinating that the table that we sat at, specifically the tabletop, had an engraved map of Busch Gardens that dated back to its opening in 1959. Yes, a lot of things have changed with Busch Gardens Tampa since its opening, let alone since my arrival in Tampa Bay back in 1991.
Downtown St. Pete
After breakfast, we caught the eastbound Route 59 (bus #2112, a 2001-series 40-foot Gillig Low Floor) to Williams Park, which serves as the downtown St. Pete bus terminal. Bus shelters currently line three sides of the park (the south, west, and north ends), allowing for seamless transfers to adjoining routes while simultaneously allowing one to catch a glimpse of the central amphitheater and other public commons. The east end meanwhile is currently used for street-side metered parking. While at the park, I managed to capture a few photos of various buses that had stopped for layover, as we had several minutes to spare before our connection to the Central Ave Trolley was to depart.
One thing that I will point out is that PSTA operators shut down their buses during layovers and shut the doors if they step away from the bus. I think that this is good thing since there may be a few people out there who may have ill intentions. Bus thefts have indeed happened before, you just might not always hear about them in the news.
Another thing to note is that for the past several years, PSTA has been trying to work out a plan with the city of St. Pete to eventually vacate Williams Park, in order to open the park back up to general public use. Yes, the park is a public space, but some residents don’t want to visit because it currently attracts the homeless, loiterers, and those who want to stir up trouble in the city. It’s an unfortunate thing when it comes to bus terminals in general, and I do wish for the current situation to get better. As of May, 2015, PSTA intends to move out of Williams Park by February 1, 2016 and will gradually shift its downtown routes into a grid pattern, where bus transfers are done at street corners. It is unclear if the customer service center at the north end of the park will remain intact.
CAT and Pass-A-Grille
Following our brief layover at Williams Park, we boarded Central Ave Trolley bus #823 for a ride down to Pass-A-Grille, which serves as the trolley’s western terminus. The trolley was created several years ago to seamlessly connect tourists and residents between downtown St. Pete and St. Pete Beach. Upon the route’s initial success, PSTA decided to make the trolley line a permanent fixture to the system, replacing Route 35. The entire route is operated by yellow 35-foot Gillig Low Floor Trolley Replica buses, all of which are either 2008 or 2009 models that utilize diesel-electric hybrid technology. Unlike the hybrid “Smartbuses”, you won’t see a tank across the roof, as some of the systems are able to be contained within other sections of the bus. After all, having a hybrid tank on the roof of a replica trolley bus would pretty much destroy the charm of the bus right off the bat.
One thing that I noticed about the replica trolley buses that PSTA uses is that they use standard transit seats instead of the charming replica trolley benches that HART’s In-Towner trolley replica buses use. I think that the use of standard transit seating on board the trolley replicas destroys the charm of these buses and almost makes the buses completely pointless to even use. While I am unsure as to why PSTA made this move, I fully respect their decision.
In regards to the route itself, the Central Ave Trolley is the only PSTA bus route to utilize a fare zone system. If you board the bus going westbound, you pay your fare when you exit. If you board the bus going eastbound, you pay the fare as you enter. The segment between the St. Pete Pier and Sundial St. Pete (formerly known as BayWalk) is a fare free zone, meaning that you don’t pay a penny if you board and de-board in this area. The segment between Sundial and the Grand Central Terminal is considered a $1.00 fare zone, and the segment west of Grand Central is considered a #2.00 fare zone. So let’s say that you are like me, and you boarded the bus in Williams Park and de-boarded in Pass-A-Grille; you’ll pay the $2.00 fare as you exit the bus. While it is not odd to see transit systems use a fare zone system, as many agencies across the globe use them, the Central Ave Trolley appears to be the only transit route in Tampa Bay to use this type of fare structure.
Another characteristic of the trolley line is that in Pass-A-Grille is that trips alternate between 8th Ave and 1st Ave. Schedules are marked with an “X” beside specific trips, indicating that those trips run along 1st Ave. We happened to be on a trip that ran along 1st Ave.
Upon arrival to Pass-A-Grille, we paid our fare and headed across the street to the beach side eatery, where we grabbed some ice cream, something to drink, and took a few photos of the coast. The weather was just perfect for a nice swim, but none of us were planning on being in the water. While our time at the beach was short-lived, only about 30 minutes before we headed off on the trolley back towards downtown, being able to get a glimpse of the beach definitely allowed me to relax and also stir up some conversation with Zac and Jason.
Back to Grand Central and Downtown
Heading back towards downtown St. Pete, we decided to take the Central Ave Trolley to the Grand Central Terminal, which opened in 2002 and was originally called the Central Plaza Intermodal Terminal. What is unique about this bus terminal is that it was constructed as a circle, rather than a linear complex that many bus terminals across the globe are designed to be as. While the terminal is pretty sleek and modern, it does pose a huge downside…which is that buses have to go in reverse for a few moments in order to pull out of the bus bay. In fact, I saw several instances by which one bus was very close to another as it backed out of the space. On the other hand, the terminal was constructed with two entry and two exit points so that buses don’t have to go all the way around just to enter or exit the complex. There is also a customer service center at the complex, as there is also one at Williams Park, the Park St Terminal, and the Pinellas Park Transit Center (Shoppes at Park Place), which make it convenient for customers to purchase passes and ask questions to transit staff.
After spending some time at Grand Central, we decided to hop on the southbound/eastbound Route 79 to return to Williams Park. There I was able to take a few more photos of the buses laying over along the park, as well as discuss which routes we would conclude our adventure with. Since the cross-bay express routes stop service by 7pm, it was important for Jason and Zac to be able to head back into Tampa in time to be able to make their necessary connections at the Marion Transit Center. I don’t think they had any plans to stick around Pinellas through the evening rush.
Up to this point in our journey, I noticed how the bus schedules do not display the direction that the bus is traveling (i.e. Northbound, Southbound, etc.), but instead only read the final destination. I think that this is very confusing to a customer and that PSTA should look into adding this into their schedules, as many transit agencies I’ve used (including HART) already do so. Also up to this point, all three of us were periodically tweeting our activities on board the bus, and were trying to see if we could stop by the PSTA Facility. After a while, we were told by PSTA staff that we could stop by after 2:00pm. So at some point, we decided to head northward in that direction.
From Williams Park, we took Route 4 up to Publix by 4th St N and 38th Ave N for lunch. Route 4 is among PSTA’s busiest and most frequent routes during the weekdays and Saturdays; running every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on Saturdays. On Sundays, the route runs more sporadically, roughly every hour from the 7am hour through 5pm. Now since we were traveling on a weekday, we knew that we could catch Route 4 very easily compared to some of the other routes that only run 30 minutes during the weekday. After having our sub sandwich lunch, we continued northbound on Route 4 towards Gateway Mall, where we transferred to Route 59 going northbound/westbound. We then made a pit stop at the PSTA Facility off of 34th St N and Scherer Dr to see if we could meet with the wonderful staff to discuss our transit adventure.
Now unlike some transit agencies, there is actually a transfer platform on 34th St N, just outside of the PSTA Facility. This platform serves as a transfer point for Routes 11 (weekdays only), 52, 59, 97 (weekdays only), and 98 (weekdays only), and is equipped with several bus shelters and restrooms (both for customers and for operators). Beyond the transfer platform is the headquarters facility for PSTA, which broke ground in 2003 and opened in 2005. The two story administration/operations building, along with its various maintenance/garage facilities, allow all of PSTA’s operations and maintenance tasks to be done in one location, as opposed to having two facilities that dated back to the 1970s and 80s. The former St. Pete division facility was built when the Central Pinellas Transit Authority (or CPTA) and St. Pete’s municipal bus service merged in 1982, and the Clearwater division facility dated back to the formation of CPTA (if not earlier).
While at the PSTA Facility, we had a chance to sit down and talk about transit-related matters with Ashlie Handy – who serves as PSTA’s Media Liasion – and Alissa Kostyk – who serves as PSTA’s Social Media Coordinator. Among the topics discussed were creative ways that PSTA could reach out to the masses, including Millennials, through Social Media initiatives. I think that is always great when transit agencies are able to reach out to both current customers and prospective customers via Social Media, because they are able to grab a wider audience than they are able to through traditional methods such as TV and radio ads. Such ads nowadays are pretty costly to produce and it can be time consuming to gather the necessary resources needed for that ad. Social Media campaigns on the other hand don’t necessarily have to be expensive to be able to gain a wide reach.
To note, this isn’t my first time to the PSTA Facility. I had the opportunity back in June to visit for the Proterra electric bus demo, where I met Alissa and PSTA’s Director of Communications, Cynthia Raskin-Schmitt, for the first time. I’ve also attended a couple of public meetings and workshops at the facility since that demo was held, and hope to be able to attend many more as I begin to plan out how to use PSTA on a regular basis. I also attended yesterday’s BYD E-Bus demo at the facility, which I will discuss my experience in a future post.
Solo Dinner Trip to Clearwater
As with all great things, the journey must eventually come to an end. After our meeting at the PSTA Facility, Zac and Jason decided to begin their journey back to Tampa via Routes 11 and 300X, and I certainly did not want them to miss their connections, as the evening rush was approaching. We managed to take a few more photos, including a few group photos, before we parted ways. Wanting to continue my leg of the adventure on board PSTA, I decided to take Route 52, which runs along a section of East Bay Dr, towards Clearwater.
While on board the East Bay Dr section of Route 52, the bus became filled to standing room only and stayed that way through the 49th St N segment of the route. It was not until we had passed through Largo that many of the passengers began to de-board. Two of the passengers on board seemed to be long time friends who had not seen each other in a long while. They conversed for about fifteen minutes before arriving at their stop. Before getting off, they exchanged phone numbers, hoping to be able to meet up again soon. It’s always a wonderful thing when you have friends on board your bus!
Upon arrival at Clearwater’s Park St Terminal, I snapped a few photos of the buses laying over there. It is to note that the Park St station was PSTA’s first transfer station, which was constructed in 1983. While the facility is largely antiquated, it is equipped with LED boards that display bus arrival information, restrooms (for both customers and operators), and a customer service window. There are currently long term plans for PSTA to replace the transfer center with a newer and modern facility, but I am not sure when that might happen, or where the new facility will be located.
For dinner that night, I decided to walk on over to Tony’s Pizzeria & Ristorante on Cleveland St. While Cleveland St serves as downtown Clearwater’s “Main Street” district so to speak – and is home to the lovely restored Capitol Theater – the area has suffered greatly from a general decline in tourist traffic ever since the fixed-span Memorial Causeway bridge was built, and all beach traffic was rerouted onto Chestnut and Court Streets to the south. Having a family member that previously owned and operated a business in a downtown area, I know how important it is to patronize locally owned businesses. After all, with my dinner consisting of a delicious baked Calzone, I know that I would be back to that particular restaurant for dinner in the future.
Return Home and Conclusion
With the day nearly over, I headed back to the Park St Terminal to catch Route 61 to the Indian Rocks Shopping Center. This was the second to last trip of the evening with a relatively empty load. In fact, I was the only passenger on board from the time the bus passed East Bay Dr to the final destination. It’s not uncommon for later evening buses to not have many passengers on board, but it is also not a surprise to see tons of passengers boarding at certain points along the route due to service winding down for the evening. One thing to note about Route 61 is the amount of zig zagging that it does. This is mainly due to the some of the lower income neighborhoods the the route serves, including the segment between Ridge Rd and Vonn Rd. On my particular trip for some reason, the operator missed the turn onto 8th Ave SW to connect to Ridge Rd. It was not until the bus had reached Ulmerton Rd that the operator realized that he had missed his turn.
Upon arrival at the Indian Rocks Shopping Center, I transferred over to Route 74 for my ride home. The bus filled up rather quickly along the route and many passengers boarded and de-boarded at the Shoppes at Park Place. As the bus approached my stop, I began to feel a bit tired, but knew at the same time that I had to make my final 15 minute walk back to my apartment. I certainly wasn’t going to fall asleep right on the bus, especially it being one of the final trips of the evening. As I stepped off the bus and began my walk back home, I thought about how awesome of a day it was to be able to ride the bus around Pinellas County with Zac and Jason. I certainly hope to be able to do it all over again, but with different routes in mind. Hopefully that will be the case for our next bus adventure…whenever that may come.
So in conclusion, Episode 1 of this PSTA bus adventure wound up being a bit more than what I expected, considering that we were able to make a stop at the PSTA facility. While I wished we could have gone on a few more routes, I fully understood that we were on a limited schedule. I know that I will have many more opportunities to explore the various PSTA routes and destinations as time progresses. In fact, I am already planning out Episode 2 of this series as I finish this one up. The “South Florida Transitfan”, Carlos A. Arganda, told me recently that he is planning a trip to Pinellas County real soon, and he has expressed interest in wanting me to join him for an adventure on board both PSTA and HART. So be sure to look out for Episode 2 in the coming weeks!
You’ll notice that on many of my photos, I now have a copyright stamp. This is to lessen the risk of my photos being used without permission, although there will be photos that will be designated for the Public Domain.