This 14-passenger bus is part of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s new North County Connectors service, which began Dec. 10.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is making new connections in Dunedin, Palm Harbor, East Lake, Countryside, Oldsmar and Tampa.
The North County Connectors service, which begins Dec. 10, consists of three new and innovative bus routes that provide public transportation to many communities currently without. The routes feature smaller 14-seat buses that can accommodate up to two wheelchairs or scooters.
The smaller size means Connector buses can go where the bigger vehicles can’t, since they can make tighter turns. Bus operators can divert to destinations up to 3/4 mile off the regular route. Smaller engines mean passengers enjoy a quieter ride. The low-profile model with ramp instead of a step allows passengers to get on and off with ease.
“The new buses are equipped with PSTA’s awesome new real time bus information technology that allows people to use a computer or smartphone to know exactly when a Connector bus will arrive at their stop,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller.
Officials began planning the new service in April with an outreach campaign, said Bob Lasher, PSTA manager of Community Relations. By August, he had talked to about 30 to 32 groups that “embraced the service and were eager for it to start.”
“Never once have I encountered someone that complained or said it wouldn’t work,” he said.
He gave a presentation at the Dec. 4 Oldsmar City Council meeting and the audience applauded when he was finished.
“They love the idea,” Lasher said. “It’s nice to share good news.”
Even more good news is that residents can try the new bus routes and service without charge for the rest of 2012. Starting Jan. 1, 2013, riders will pay the standard fare of $2 one-way or $4.50 for an all-day pass. Seniors and “special citizens” can ride for half price, $1 one-way and $2.25 for the all-day pass.
Senior fares apply to riders age 65 and older who have a government-issued identification showing age or an original Medicare card. Daily unlimited GO Cards can be purchased on the buses, exact change required.
Connector buses run Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Connector buses are not available on Sunday or holidays. Departure times vary.
Three different routes travel throughout north Pinellas. The Dunedin/Palm Harbor route runs a loop from Westfield Countryside Mall to the Palm Harbor Walmart and on to St. Pete College Tarpon campus.
The Countryside/Oldsmar/Tampa also travels from Westfield Countryside then to Shoppes at Boot Ranch in Palm Harbor and on to Hillsborough Area Regional Authority’s Northwest Transit Center in Town ‘n’ Country. The East Lake route goes from Shoppes at Boot Ranch then runs along Ridgemoor Boulevard and then to Huey and Tarpon avenues.
Riders have two ways to access the service. They can get on and off at regular stops, the same as any other PSTA bus route, or they can get personalized service to destinations within 3/4-mile of a regular route. Pickup and drop-off locations both must be within 3/4 mile of a regular route.
Reservations are required. Service is available on a first-come, first-served basis with a limit of two pickups or drop-offs per run. Reservations can be made as early as three days in advance and as late as two hours before a preferred pick up or return trip. Riders are urged to book return trips when they make the initial reservation for a pickup.
Reservations can be made by calling the PSTA InfoLine at 540-1900 and selecting option 2.
Lasher said the pickup and drop-off limit might be adjusted in the future if warranted. Bus operators also have the option to deviate a bit more than ľ-mile from a regular route depending on the circumstance.
“We want to be as flexible as possible,” he said.
One of the most important aspects of the community outreach was finding out where people wanted to go, the preferred bus routes. Lasher said feedback showed people wanting bus routes that would take them to grocery stores and other shopping destinations. They want bus service to take them to their doctor’s appointments. They want to go to restaurants and the movies. They want to go to the park.
He said the routes were designed to accommodate as much of the expressed wants of the community as feasible.
The North County Connector service is made possible through a state Service Development Grant. If the service proves popular, it could be expanded to other areas, if funding is available.
“I’m anxious to see how this works out,” Lasher said.