PSTA Board Chairman Jeff Danner, left, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and PSTA driver of the year Johnnie Dixon talk to the media about the rollout of eight new diesel-electric hybrid SmartBuses at a Feb. 21 event at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG - Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board Chairman Jeff Danner officially kicked off the deployment of eight, brand new diesel-electric hybrid SmartBuses at a ceremony Feb. 21 at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg.
The fuel efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles were purchased with federal grant funds and will replace the eight oldest buses in the PSTA fleet.
“These new hybrid vehicles offer a host of benefits including increased fuel economy, significantly lower emissions and space for 14 additional passengers over the buses they’re replacing,” Danner said. “Many of our routes now run with standing-room-only loads, so the larger buses will give riders more room and a better chance at getting a seat.”
“This is win for all taxpayers,” Castor added. “Not only are we benefitting transit riders and getting people to work, but we’re doing so with buses that cut our dependence on foreign oil and protect our environment. It’s a smart investment all the way around.”
When the PSTA Board of Directors authorized the purchase of the first diesel-electric hybrid buses in 2008, the bus manufacturer, Gillig Corporation, claimed that the hybrids would use 20 percent less fuel on average than PSTA’s regular diesel buses.
Since their deployment in 2009, the hybrids have experienced an average increase of 56 percent in fuel economy over the agency’s standard diesel buses.
“Being able to add more of these buses to our fleet is a great thing for Pinellas County,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller. “When you buy 2.1 million gallons of fuel a year, replacing older buses with new ones that are 56 percent more fuel efficient is a big money saver and a prudent use of tax dollars.”
Miller said four more hybrids, also purchased with federal grant funds, are on order and should be on the streets by the end of the year. Those will also be replacement vehicles and will increase PSTA’s hybrid fleet to 36 out of 188 total buses.
The new 40-foot hybrids cost about $600,000 each, which is approximately one third more than a standard diesel unit. However, overall savings in fuel and maintenance are expected to make the lifetime cost (over a 12 year period) of the hybrids equal to that of the regular diesel models.
The environmental benefits include nearly 100 percent reduction in oxides of nitrogen and about 90 percent reduction in emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and hydrocarbons.
Piloting the new, technologically advanced vehicle at the Feb. 21 event was current PSTA driver of the year Johnnie Dixon.
When asked what he likes best about the new hybrid SmartBuses he smiled and said, “Right now, for this bus, I’d have to say it’s that new bus smell... there’s nothing quite like it.”
Also on hand for the kickoff event were St. Petersburg City Council members Wengay Newton, who also sits on the PSTA Board of Directors, and Leslie Curran.
In other news, PSTA announced a new partnership with Amscot Financial Feb. 19. All 28 Amscot locations in Pinellas County now sell PSTA GO Card.
Jeff Danner, PSTA Board chair and St. Petersburg City Councilmember, and Deveron Gibbons, Amscot’s vice president of Public Affairs and Business Development, celebrated the new partnership with a ceremonial sale of a GO Card at Amscot Financial, 3266 Central Ave., which is next door to PSTA’s Grand Central Station in St. Petersburg.
“PSTA provided more than 14 million rides last year and ridership this year is already up another 9 percent. Those increases have created a higher demand for ticket outlet locations,” Danner said. “This new partnership will help meet that demand and make it much more convenient for riders to get GO Cards and use PSTA.”
PSTA currently has 25 ticket outlets throughout Pinellas County, which sell more than 7,100 GO Cards every month. This new partnership with Amscot Financial will more than double the locations at which Pinellas residents and tourists can buy bus passes.
“We have customer comment cards in every store and we’ve been getting requests to sell PSTA GO Cards on a regular basis,” Gibbons said. “It’s important to us to be responsive to the community and honor those requests. In fact, it won’t be long before we carry PSTA passes in some of our Hillsborough and Pasco locations as well.”
Amscot staff programmed the computers in the Pinellas locations to automatically take employees through an online training that teaches them how to sell the bus passes.
“It gets them up to speed more quickly and ensures that our customers get the fastest possible service,” Gibbons added.