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.
This post was last updated on 06/19/2018 More information has been released regarding the upcoming service changes for LYNX, SunRail, & Votran
It’s that time again…service changes, service changes, service changes!
In this post, I will outline some of the key changes that are coming to the following transit agencies: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (d.b.a. LYNX), SunRail Commuter Rail, & Volusia County Transit (Votran).
Please note that with some of the agencies, further detailed information may not be available immediately as of this posting. Updates will be made when that information becomes available. This post is meant to present a general level overview of some of the key changes that will be enacted during the course of the next two months.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA)
PSTA is enacting several map/scheduling/time point changes on Sunday, June 17, 2018, which can be viewed on the PSTA website. The most significant changes however will take place the following day, Monday, June 18, 2018 – when Routes 100X & 300X will be officially re-launched as extended versions of their current selves. This will allow both routes to each serve a key area in the Tampa Bay region that wasn’t previously served by a PSTA express bus route.
Route 100X – St. Petersburg/Gateway/Tampa Express: Thanks to additional Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Urban Corridor Project funding, the 100X will be extended southward to serve Downtown St. Petersburg via Interstate 275. All existing points (Gateway Mall, Britton Plaza in South Tampa, and Downtown Tampa) will continue to be served as they are today, with the limited trips to the Fidelity National (FIS) complex on Roosevelt Blvd & 16th Ct N being kept. The overall span of service within the existing route will largely remain the same, but adjustments to the schedule have been made to account for the Downtown St. Petersburg leg, thus creating an expansion to the overall span of service when the extension is accounted for.
The redesigned Route 100X will continue to operate Monday through Friday only, but will have a peak-hour frequency of roughly every 45 to 50 minutes, instead of the current 30 to 60 minute frequency. The midday trips have also been re-timed.
Buses will originate in Downtown St. Pete, at The Pier District (2nd Ave N, just east of the Sundial Shoppes where the Central Ave Trolley terminates), with the first trip of the morning departing at 4:42am.
From The Pier District, buses will circulate through the downtown area – serving all designated bus stops along the way – before entering the interstate system via I-375. Buses will then exit I-375 and enter I-275 north, then exiting at 54th Ave N.
From 54th Ave N, southbound/westbound buses travel along MLK St N while northbound/eastbound buses use 4th St N to enter/exit Gateway Mall.
From Gateway Mall eastward, the existing routing is used. The last trip from downtown St. Pete will be at 5:42pm.
Route 300X – Gateway/TPA Airport/Tampa Express (re-branded as the “Airport Express”): With the opening of the bus transfer hub at Tampa International Airport’s Rental Car Center, PSTA began formulating plans to alter Route 300X service while longer term plans for a direct express route from Clearwater Beach to Tampa continue to materialize. FDOT Urban Corridor funding will allow for the 300X to serve the TPA Airport Bus Hub on most trips while maintaining hourly peak service & the limited midday trips. Two trips (one AM eastbound & one PM westbound) will be kept as direct trips between the Ulmerton Rd Park-N-Ride Lot & Downtown Tampa via I-275. The overall span of service will remain largely the same – with a slightly earlier start time & somewhat later end time.
The redesigned Route 300X will continue to operate Monday through Friday only, with peak frequency changing to operate hourly versus the existing schedule. The midday trips have also been re-timed.
Buses will continue to originate at the Ulmerton Rd Park-N-Ride Lot on Ulmerton Rd, just east of Starkey Rd. The only major routing change is that most trips will now serve the TPA Airport Bus Hub, where customers from Pinellas can easily transfer to HART Routes 30, 32, 35, 60LX, & 275LX. Future plans also include Pasco Transit launching its own express route from central Pasco County to the bus hub.
The first eastbound trip of the morning will be at 6:10am, with the last trip being 6:20pm.
Only the 7:00AM Eastbound trip from the Ulmerton Rd Park-N-Ride Lot & the 4:55PM Westbound trip from HART’s Marion Transit Center will skip the airport. These trips will travel between Downtown Tampa and the Gateway area directly. These trips are being retained as direct trips to/from Downtown Tampa due to concerns from customers who use the existing 300X during the height of rush hour to get to/from work.
Other Changes: Minor map/scheduling/time point changes will be made to Routes 5, 7, 14, 15, 16, 20, 68, & the Dunedin/Palm Harbor Flex Connector (Route 813).
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART)
HART will be enacting similar changes to some of its bus routes on Sunday, July 1, 2018, which can be viewed on the HART website (Select the Routes drop-down menu and scroll to the “HART Service Changes – Effective 71/18” section to view maps and schedules). The most significant changes will include the replacement of Route 51LX with Route 275LX, the addition of Route 48 – which restores service to key areas of northeastern Hillsborough that was lost when Route 57 was eliminated in October, 2017, and the elimination of the Downtown Tampa In-Towner Trolley Services due to ultra-low ridership.
Route 14 – Armenia Ave: Weekday service will be completely re-timed to reflect traffic patterns during the day. Buses will now depart roughly every 30 to 35 minutes. Weekend frequency will remain unchanged.
Route 48 – Temple Terrace: One of the biggest complaints by far that I’ve seen since the Mission MAX system restructuring was implemented back in October of 2017 was the elimination of Route 57 through Temple Terrace. The 57 was eliminated due to lower ridership & high upkeep costs, but many residents complained that they were left with no avenue to get to work or other destinations in Hillsborough without the route in place. While these residents clamored for HART to revive the 57, the route in its previous form was not going to return due to certain areas having ultra-low ridership levels. However, talks for a replacement service to serve key areas where residents were left with no service begin gaining traction during the late winter of 2017, when Hillsborough County officials began discussing the possibility of additional funding for the transit system. While a recurring funding arrangement failed to be reached, a one-time infusion was agreed upon to provide additional funds for service maintenance and expansion through FY 2018.
The routing for the 48 will be similar to how the 57 operated, with buses originating at the NetPark Transfer Center on 56th St & Harney Rd. Buses will leave the transfer center going south on 56th to Harney Rd, then 78th St, Temple Terrace Hwy, Davis Rd, Morris Bridge Rd, and then Fowler Ave. The previous segment of the 57 along 56th St and Fletcher Ave will not be served by the 48 due to the 6 already serving those areas. 42nd St & Skipper Rd just north of the USF Tampa campus will also not be served by the 48. Buses will instead continue down Fowler Ave to 30th St, where they will connect to the University Area Transit Center.
Service will run hourly, with weekday service starting at 5:30AM & running through 9:30PM. Weekend service will pretty much mirror the weekday schedule.
Routes 51LX/275LX: Due to the continuing decline in ridership of Route 51LX, which runs from Pasco County to Downtown Tampa via Temple Terrace, HART will be eliminating the route entirely & replacing East Pasco to Downtown Tampa Limited Express service with Route 275LX. The 275LX will operate all week long instead of just during weekday peak hours with hourly frequency, plus service to Tampa International Airport. The agency is re-allocating its funds through the FDOT Urban Corridor Project to fund the 275LX service.
With the 275LX, buses will originate at the Wiregrass Park-N-Ride Lot in Wesley Chapel, then travel down Bruce B. Downs Blvd to the Lowe’s Park-N-Ride Lot near I-75 in Tampa Palms. From there, buses will make a stop at the University Area Transit Center via Bruce B. Downs Blvd, then to Downtown Tampa & the Marion Transit Center via Fowler Ave & I-275. The segment along Bruce B. Downs Blvd & Fowler Ave will essentially restore basic service to areas along these corridors that were lost when Route 45 was re-aligned & Route 57 was eliminated back in October, 2017.
From the Marion Transit Center, buses will re-enter I-275 and terminate at the Tampa International Airport Bus Hub at the Rental Car Center, with departures synchronizing with Route 60LX so that customers traveling between the airport & downtown can enjoy a roughly 30 minute headway. Service on the 275LX itself will be hourly, with service starting up at approximately 5:10AM & running through about 10:00PM. Two trips will originate at the Marion Transit Center going to Tampa International Airport & the other two will originate at the University Area Transit Center going to Wiregrass. In the evening, trips will stagger to end at either transit center between 9:50PM & 11:00PM. Weekend schedules will basically mirror the weekday schedule.
In-Towner Services: Due to the continuing decline in ridership, Routes 96 & 97 will be eliminated. Customers wishing to traverse through Downtown Tampa can utilize Routes 1, 8, or 19, with Routes 1 & 19 serving western Downtown & the Riverfront, & Route 8 serving eastern Downtown & the Channelside District. Customers can also use the Downtownerfree shuttle service provided by the Tampa-Downtown Partnership. Talks are currently underway as to the possibility of the partnership transferring operation of the shuttle service to HART.
HyperLINK Service: Despite the initial success of the HyperLINK ride-share type program, various factors – including whether there would be future commitments to run the service by private sector vendors – have prompted HART to end the service. Service in all zones will wind down on July 31, 2018.
Other Changes: Minor map/scheduling/time point changes will be made to Routes 1, 25LX, 31, 42, & 45.
In anticipation of the opening of Phase II of SunRail from Sand Lake Rd in southern Orlando to Poinciana, LYNX is making key changes to the bus network in Osceola County, along with changes to other routes in the overall network to improve system efficiency.
Xpress Route 208, which currently runs from the SunRail Sand Lake Rd Station to the Kissimmee Intermodal Station, will end services on Friday, July 27, 2018. SunRail trains begin operating between the Sand Lake Rd & Poinciana Stations the following Monday, July 30, 2018.
Also in anticipation for the SunRail extension, a new route will be created in Osceola County – Route 155 – which will serve The Loop, Osceola Parkway, Tupperware SunRail Station and Buena Ventura Lakes.
You may view all of the upcoming changes – most of which will become effective on Sunday, July 15, 2018 – on the LYNX website. Further updates will be made when schedules for each individual route become available.
The new SunRail schedule is now available on the SunRail website by selecting the banner on the homepage. A PDF file will then open with the new schedule.
Volusia County Transit (Votran)
Votran has an odd tendency to not post service changes in a very timely manner. However this time, they’ve posted a week ahead regarding the launch of Route 44 in the New Smyrna Beach area. This route will connect the Julia St & Sams Ave transfer point in downtown NSB to the WalMart supercenter & Shoppes at Coronado complexes on the northwest corner of SR 44 & I-95. Buses will then travel eastward to the beachside, to Indian River Village, before heading back to the downtown NSB transfer point. Service begins on Monday, June 25, 2018 and will operate on a flag-stop system until permanent stops are constructed.
Further updates will be made when the new schedule & map are posted.
Post updated on 2/13/18.
Received updated info from HART regarding the TPA Airport Shuttle.
It’s that time again, time to enact service changes across multiple transit districts. In this post, I will be discussing the various service changes going into effect for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Volusia County Transit, & Miami-Dade Transit.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART)
HART will be enacting the following service changes on Sunday, February 25, 2018:
Schedules are available by visiting the Maps & Schedules page, then selecting the route drop-down menu, then scrolling down to the service changes section at the bottom.
Route 6: Weekday frequency will increase to every 15 minutes during the day.
Routes 15 & 32: Westbound buses will begin serving the on-property bus stop at International Plaza. Scheduling changes will be made in accordance to this change.
Route 19: Bi-directional service to Tampa General Hospital will be restored & thus the 19A shuttle will end. Scheduling changes will be made in accordance to this change.
Route 20X: Service will be extended to MacDill/South Tampa. Scheduling & map changes will be made in accordance to this change.
Route 24LX: Service will be restored to 5 trips during the AM & 5 trips during the PM. While extra buses were already running due to overcrowding, formal scheduling changes were able to be made at last.
Route 33: Minor weekend scheduling adjustments will be made.
Route 34: Weekday frequency will increase to every 15 minutes during the day & to every 30 minutes on weekends.
Route 36: Scheduling changes will be made to adjust departure & running times on weekends. This is in connection to the changes for Route 19, since the two interline on weekends.
Route 35: New route will be introduced to replace the 60LX between Tampa International Airport & Northwest Transfer Center.
Route 46: Weekday frequency will increase to every 15 minutes during the day. Routing will also change to keep buses on Brandon Blvd (SR 60).
Route 60LX: Buses will no longer travel to Northwest Transfer Center. Buses will terminate at the Tampa International Airport Hub.
HART Flex Brandon: Routing adjustments will be made to have vans travel on Parsons Ave instead of Vonderburg Dr.
Tampa International Airport Shuttle%: Service will end with the opening of the SkyConnect Automated People Mover between the Tampa International Airport Main Terminal & the airport’s Consolidated Rental Car (CONRAC) Facility.
In addition, scheduling changes are slated for Routes 15, 16, 39, 51LX, & The TECOline Streetcar.
% Change will take place on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 or Thursday, February 15, 2018, but is subject to change. HART has clarified that the shuttle will continue until the rest of the service changes take effect. After further discussion between HART & TPA Airport officials, HART will end the shuttle after 2/14/18. Please see this flyer for details.
PSTA will be enacting the following service changes on Sunday, February 18, 2018:
Select the route number to view the new schedule.
Route 4: Departure and running times will be changed, with some trips departing earlier or later than they currently do. Overall span of service will be adjusted accordingly to reflect ridership patterns – resulting in some early morning or later evening trips being adjusted or eliminated.
Route 11: Buses will begin serving Gandy Blvd, Gateway Business Park, 28th St N, and the PSTA 34th St Transfer Center on weekends. Service to the Carillon Business Park will be discontinued to improve efficiency along the route. Departure and running times, and overall span of service will be adjusted accordingly.
Route 14: Departure and running times will be changed, with some trips departing earlier or later than they currently do. Overall span of service will remain largely unchanged.
Route 18: 10:40pm weeknight trip will terminate at Seminole City Center instead of Tyrone Square Mall.
Route 23: An updated schedule timetable has been produced. There does not appear to be any departure or running time changes, time point changes, or changes in the overall span of service.
Route 38: An updated schedule timetable and map have been produced. There does not appear to be any departure or running time changes, time point changes, or changes in the overall span of service.
Route 58: Overall span of service has been increased to include three full trips in each direction. The last westbound buses to Seminole City Center will depart Gateway Mall at 6:30pm, 7:30pm, & 8:10pm. The last eastbound buses to Gateway Mall will depart Seminole City Center at 7:20pm & 8:20pm. The 6:40pm trip will now run to Gateway Mall, instead of terminating at 49th St N as it currently does.
Route 59: Weekday schedule has been adjusted to match Route 4 at the PSTA 34th St Transfer Center. Midday departures will now have 15 minute headways, allowing for more frequent service throughout the day.
Route 74: Weekday frequency will be restored to 20 minute headways between 6:00am & 5:00pm, allowing for more frequent service. When the route was split up in 2016, weekday frequency was reduced to every 25 minutes.
Route 79: An updated schedule timetable has been produced, with minor changes in departure & running times.
Route 444: Due to ultra-low ridership, this route will be eliminated outright. Customers will have access to DART (Paratransit) & Direct Connect (Link) services.
Beachside Trolley Services: The PSTA Suncoast Beach Trolley, as well as both Jolley Trolley services (Clearwater Beach & Clearwater Coastal) will all begin to serve the newly constructed Clearwater Beach Transit Center on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway – just east of the roundabout. Some scheduling & map changes have been made to the SBT, including the addition of an intermittent Downtown Clearwater extension that will be activated during Spring Break season. Updates will be made accordingly to the Jolley Trolley schedules as needed.
Update: As of 2/7/18, entries for the PSTA routes are still showing on OBA, but data is no longer being fed over to the interface. The entries will be removed entirely around 2/18/18, when PSTA performs its next GTFS update to coincide with the 2/18/18 service changes. As of 2/25/18, all PSTA GTFS data has been removed from OBA.
I first reported on March 24, 2016 that the OneBusAway interface for the Tampa Bay region began showing General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) in addition to data for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART). The two were working together for a time on a common real-time transit tracking application that could one day be rolled out region-wide as part of the broader Regional Fare Collection Project.
However, since late 2017, I’ve learned that those collaboration efforts were coming an to end, partly because the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) was unable to obtain funding needed to expand OneBusAway (OBA) functionality across Pasco, Hernando, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties. This effort was further complicated by the recent restructuring of TBARTA and other issues.
By the end of 2017, it was decided that while collaboration work would continue with Flamingo Fares Tampa Bay, work to bring the two agencies together on OBA would not proceed. HART decided to build upon OBA Tampa on its own, while PSTA officially endorsed the Transit App. Transit App works similarly to OBA, but with different functionality – including the ability to show Direct Connect zones, which PSTA heavily favors over OBA. Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) in the Long Island region of New York also uses the Transit App and has found much success with it so far.
Because the collaboration between HART & PSTA is coming to end when it comes to real-time transit tracking, PSTA will officially remove all of its GTFS data from OBA – for good – after Wednesday, January 31, 2018. PSTA customers who are needing to access real-time transit arrivals information will have access to one of the following avenues:
Clever Devices: The Clever Devices interface, which PSTA installed back in 2012, will remain in place. This includes the desktop site, electronic message boards at transfer points, InfoLine capabilities (by calling 727-540-1900), and automated on-board announcements.
Transit App: The Transit App for smartphones can be downloaded for both Android & iPhone users. The app is free to download and very easy to use. I will demonstrate how to use the app at a later date.
Even though Hurricane Irma brought a lot of uncertainty to Florida’s transit agencies this past couple of weeks, there has been some very good news to help balance things out.
On September 15, 2017, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the 51 recipients of the Low or No Emission (Low-No) Vehicle Program grant. The grant, totaling $55 million dollars across 39 states, is aimed at helping transit agencies across the nation to obtain, improve, and expand bus fleets that emit little to no carbon emissions – including battery electric buses.
If you’ve read my previous posts about the battery electric bus journey at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), then you’ll be very delighted to hear that PSTA was among five agencies here in Florida to be awarded some of the FTA Low-No grant money! The $1 million awarded to PSTA will be used to help cement the agency’s commitment to purchase 2 battery electric buses per year, starting in FY 2020, by being able to have the funds available to purchase additional battery electric bus charging stations and buses.
As some of you already know, PSTA will be getting its first 2 battery electric buses towards the end of the year or early 2018 to be used on a planned shuttle route along Downtown St. Pete’s Beach Drive. PSTA leadership has shown their commitment to expanding the battery electric bus purchases beyond the initial pilot, and being granted the FTA money will allow the agency to fulfill that commitment.
The other four FL transit agencies that earned Low-No grant funds from the FTA include Tallahassee’s StarMetro – which already posses a small fleet of battery electric buses, Broward County Transit, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and Gainesville’s Regional Transit System.
Please join me in congratulating all five of these wonderful transit agencies, as well as all of the recipients of the FTA grant!
At the February 22, 2017 board meeting, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board voted to purchase two 35-foot battery electric transit buses, plus a charging station from BYD Motors at a cost not to exceed $2,200,000. Nine members voted for the purchase while five voted against. One or two members were not present at the meeting.
The vote to purchase the two buses caps off what has been nearly two years of analysis and discussion within the agency, and between elected and community leaders, and citizens. The move also quells what could have been a very heated debate between environmental advocates who championed the agency to take part in the pilot project and Tea Party conservatives who were insistent that PSTA had broken a prior obligation to revert to purchasing only straight diesel transit bus purchases following the failed Greenlight Pinellas initiative.
The idea of PSTA taking part in an electric bus pilot project surfaced sometime in 2014, but gained momentum in 2015. During the course of mid 2015; four manufacturers were brought in to showcase their vehicles and convey their benefits to PSTA leaders, elected officials, and riders. First was Proterra Inc., followed by BYD, Complete Coach Works, and New Flyer.
In 2016, further analysis and research was done to examine costs and benefits to PSTA, as well as decide whether the investment was well worth it. During this time, there was a lot of misconceptions going around that the initial costs of the purchase would far outweigh the long term benefits of the electric buses, as well as misconceptions that straight diesel buses were a much economical choice over the battery electric buses and even the existing hybrid buses that the agency was purchasing.
In late 2016, the issue was brought up as to how to pay for the charging station, as PSTA only had resources available for the buses themselves. Pinellas County leaders ultimately voted to allocate a portion of settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico towards the purchase of the charging station. The City of St. Petersburg has also expressed chipping in funds for the pilot project and ongoing operation of the buses, and Duke Energy has expressed its desire to assist with the project as well.
Concerns regarding the cost of the electric buses and whether it was worth it for the agency to purchase them stirred the five board members who ultimately voted against the move. County Commissioner Brian Scott was specifically concerned about a recent report that came out from the Tampa Bay Times regarding the dire financial limitations on both PSTA and neighboring Hillsborough Area Regional Transit. Tea Party conservative Barbara Haselden, who served as head of No Tax For Tracks Pinellas, voiced criticism towards the board for not following through on what she sees as taxpayer wishes to create an economically sound and efficient transit system by reverting back to only purchasing straight diesel transit buses.
Once the buses are in operation, it is very likely that they will be used as part of an enhanced circulator route in Downtown St. Petersburg. There is currently a study underway to re-evaluate downtown circulator service. The buses will also complement three 35-foot Gillig Low Floor Hybrid Drive BRT style transit buses that are in place for the agency’s 2018 bus fleet order. While no official timeline has been set for the production and delivery of the BYD buses, it is likely that they will arrive sometime in late 2018. The Gillig buses will likely be numbered 18101 through 18103, while the BYD buses will likely be assigned unit numbers 18110 and 18111.
On Sunday, October 2, 2016; the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) enacted a major revamp of key bus routes with the goal of streamlining service and improving efficiency and reliability throughout the system. These changes include the introduction of four new bus routes and substantial changes to 12 others – including the Jolley Trolley. In this post; I will go into detail regarding each of the changes for southern and a portion of central Pinellas, as well as share some images of the new services that PSTA now operates.
Streamlining South & Central County Service
PSTA has long been known for operating notoriously long bus routes by which it can take as much as two to three hours to traverse Pinellas County. While longer routes tend to provide a convenient, one-seat option for some; the lengthier the bus route, the more chances that reliability issues will arise. In the case of many central Pinellas routes; buses were running well behind schedule due to traffic conditions and/or construction on key corridors – like Ulmerton Rd. When buses fall behind on one segment of the route, the entire route becomes bogged down in delays, and that in-turn inconveniences the customer.
To help remedy this problem, PSTA decided to modify routes so that they can operate more smoothly. These measures included splitting some routes into two or three segments so that better service can be provided and maintained on the busiest portions while maintaining basic (hourly or less frequent) service in areas that don’t see high ridership demand. Other changes included combining segments of two routes that would otherwise be too short to operate on their own (while not being notoriously long either), and moving/eliminating a portion of an existing route and allow another route or service to easily compensate for any service lost.
Route 4 maintains its frequent 15-minute weekday service during the day – with 30-minute frequency after 6:30pm and all day on Saturdays. Hourly service is maintained on Sundays and Holidays. However, the segment north of Gateway Mall now travels up MLK St N to Roosevelt Blvd, 28th St N, 118th Ave N, and 34th St N – taking over the path of Route 59 to the 34th St Transfer Center (PSTA Facility). The northern (116th Ave N/Goodwill Industries) loops previously served by Route 4, have been shifted over to a new Route 9, which I will describe in a few moments. In addition to the above; the Coquina Key Loop is now a timepoint. This means that buses serving the loop will display “via Coquina” on the head signs.
While I was very concerned about the routing that Route 4 would ultimately take, I have to say that I am very satisfied with how the final routing turned out. Not only will I be able to use the same bus stops that I’ve been using previously to board and de-board Route 59, but I will also enjoy a one-seat ride into the heart of Downtown St. Petersburg via 4th St N. The frequency of the 4 during the weekdays and on Saturdays will also allow me to be more flexible with my work commute schedule, and also make quick runs to the store – particularly Trader Joe’s on 4th St N – without having to drive or wait up to an hour for a connecting bus.
As I mentioned earlier, the 116th Ave N/Goodwill Industries loops that were previously served by Route 4 are now served by the new Route 9. The 9 operates every 30 minutes on weekdays with hourly service on the weekends (though for some reason, the buses do run a bit more oddly on Sundays). Buses serving the loops will do so in the same clockwise fashion that Route 4 previously did on Sundays and Holidays – departing Gateway Mall and serving 116th Ave N first, then the Goodwill Industries facility on Gandy Blvd, before returning to Gateway Mall. From Gateway Mall southward, the 9 takes over the southernmost segment of Route 59 to Downtown St. Pete.
In the early stages of planning and public input, the 9 was to only operate hourly seven days a week This did not pan out well with a lot of customers – as many businesses lie along the MLK St N corridor and they (the customers) felt that it was a disservice to them if bus service went down from 20 to 30 minutes to an hour on weekdays. PSTA eventually revised the proposal to include 30-minute weekday service while maintaining hourly weekend service.
Route 74 through central Pinellas has been split into three separate routes. The 74 is maintained between Seminole City Center (formerly Seminole Mall) and Gateway Mall. The 20 to 30-minute weekday frequency and hourly weekend service are retained. In addition, the 102nd Ave N/16th St N/94th Ave N loop has become permanent.
Splitting the 74 allows the Park Blvd portion to retain its frequent weekday service while opening the door to more frequent Saturday service and better Sunday service down the road should funding allow for it.
The segment south of Gateway Mall is now Route 16, which operates each day with one bus every hour. While I prefer that this route operate with 30 to 45-minute weekday service, it is probably not possible to do so at the moment, given PSTA’s limited resources. I do hope that frequency on the weekdays will be increased later on so that customers aren’t too inconvenienced.
The segment west of Seminole City Center is now Route 65, which also takes over the southernmost segment of Route 66 – the latter I will describe in a later post. Route 65 operates each day on an hourly schedule between Seminole City Center and the Park St Terminal in Downtown Clearwater. Buses traveling on the 65 will not enter the Indian Rocks Shopping Center at the northwest corner of Ulmerton Rd and Indian Rocks Rd. Street-side transfers can be made to Routes 59 and 61 from the bus stops along Indian Rocks Rd and Ulmerton Rd. Route 61 buses will still enter the shopping center’s parking lot.
Route 19 was first established in 1990 as a one-seat option for customers traveling the entire Pinellas County portion of US Hwy 19. While the service has been very popular and ridership very strong, increased traffic congestion along the highway over the years has created longer delays – especially in northern Pinellas. PSTA decided that splitting the 19 into two routes would be best to maintain as much existing service as possible while improving the overall reliability and efficiency of the system.
Route 19 was split at the Largo Commons Walmart – which the bus platform on the property’s east end serves as the Largo Transit Center. The segment north of the transfer center retains the Route 19 designation, while the segment south of there became the new Route 34 (34 was chosen due to the southern portion of the route being on 34th St N). Route 19’s overall frequency was reduced to every 35 minutes Monday through Saturday to maintain basic service along the northern US 19 corridor while still being frequent enough to get customers to major employment centers such as Westfield Countryside. Also, buses no longer enter the mall’s parking lots – but remain on Countryside Dr and SR 580. The Westfield Countryside timepoint has thus shifted to the eastbound-only platform on SR 580 at Summerdale Dr.
Route 34 begins its journey at the Largo Transit Center and then makes a southbound turnaround on US 19 at Whitney Rd. The route then follows the path of Route 19 down the central US 19 corridor to the Pinellas Park Transit Center (Shoppes at Park Place). From there; the route continues down the 34th St N corridor of US 19 to Grand Central Station and the Skyway Marina District. 20 to 30-minute weekday frequency is maintained throughout the day, with 30-minute evening and Saturday frequency, and hourly Sunday service. Select trips to Eckerd College are retained as well.
Route 18 was originally poised to see major revisions in an effort to streamline service. These plans called for the segment servicing Heritage Apartments to be discontinued, as well as the removal of service into Largo Mall’s parking lots. However; fierce resistance from customers forced PSTA to reconsider the removal of these segments until a longer-term solution can be crafted. In the meantime; Route 18 continues to operate as it did previously – but with some scheduling changes to help keep buses moving on time.
In the future, perhaps during the course of 2017 or 2018, I see PSTA revisiting Route 18 for the removal of service from Heritage Apartments. This will especially be the case if the agency’s Direct Connect service expands further to include more stops. Currently, the revised draft calls for the addition of five stops in strategically located areas of Pinellas, where getting to a bus stop is difficult.
In my next post; I will cover changes for Routes 52, 59, 60, 61, and 67 – focusing on the improvement of these routes through Largo (Routes 52 and 59), Clearwater (Routes 60 and 61), and Oldsmar (Route 67). I will then publish a third post covering Routes 62, 66, 76, 78, the North County Connector routes, and the Jolley Trolley – focusing on the reorganization of these routes through Northern Pinellas.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding these changes – I recommend that you contact PSTA directly at 727-540-1900, or by visiting PSTA.net. Please keep in mind that during the course of this week – Real Time Bus Information through the Clever Devices Interface (ridepsta.net) and OneBusAway may incrementally be unavailable due to updates that are needed to accommodate these route changes.
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus routes were indeed showing up on HART’s OBA interface, rather than HART’s own routes (though HART Routes 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 30, 31, 33, 34, 36, 37, 39, 41, 45, 46, 57, 96, and 400-MetroRapid were all showing as they normally would, as well as some HART express routes). If you were using the mobile app for OBA, the situation was a lot less confusing, as both HART and PSTA routes showed up on the interface.
Mobile app snapshot of PSTA Route 11
Both PSTA and HART routes appear on the mobile app.
Now, while I can only guess that today’s occurrence was a test run of sorts, HART and PSTA have been working together for the past several months to bring OBA functionality over to Pinellas County, as part of a broader regional connectivity plan that will soon usher in the first stages of a regional smart card-based fare structure. So therefore, I also see today’s occurrence to be the next stage in preparations for the official launch of OBA in Pinellas, which is currently slated to happen sometime later this year.
For those wondering about PSTA’s current “Real Time” bus tracking system that is powered through Clever Devices, that system is here to stay. Instead, OBA will become an additional convenience for PSTA customers – especially those who utilize smartphones. Those of us who have utilized the Clever Devices interface know that if you’re using a smartphone, the only effective avenue to track buses in real time is the mobile “text-only” site.
With the preparations continuing for PSTA to join the OBA realm – which already includes the New York City MTA, Sound Transit, and Atlanta’s MARTA, in addition to HART – expect to see more great things from both agencies as we head towards the summer months. My only question now is, will the official launch of OBA (Pinellas) happen sooner than some of us think it will? Only time will tell on that I guess…
Yesterday, I decided to take a quick drive down to Williams Park to see how the park and the surrounding streets look since the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) ended its bus transfer hub operations there. While the Customer Service building remains open to customers needing to seek information about the PSTA system, you will already notice a few differences between when PSTA was there, versus now. Let’s take a quick look at the scene via a video that I put together.