ST PETE BEACH — St. Pete Beach may consider contracting with a transportation vendor to provide electric golf cart or trolley service along Gulf Boulevard in the city, with PSTA buses only ferrying riders to a transfer station.
Mayor Al Johnson suggested the possibility of the city providing its own transportation, in lieu of PSTA bus service, during a work session before the May 28 regular session. The idea was also raised at an earlier meeting by City Commissioner Melinda Pletcher.
“Personally I think we need bus service here, especially a link to downtown,” Johnson said. “I’d like to see us take over everything on the island … and at 75th (PSTA drops) everybody off and leaves; we’ll take it from there. If we kept the trolley that comes down the beaches, that now goes as far as 75th and goes back, that would cover everything from 75th north in the city, just like its being covered now. The rest we take over.”
He said the rest could be taken over by Free Beach Ride and Nickel Ride. There are several suppliers all with electric golf carts that are more compatible for the size of St. Pete Beach.
“I don’t want to see us having any more buses on the street and I certainly don’t want to see people staying home and not riding their bicycles because of bus traffic out there,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski noted “there would be less transfers, too.”
During the end of the meeting, a PSTA representative asked for an opportunity to address the public with new information, advising commissioners the agency now has much requested ridership figures. Commissioners set aside 15 minutes for the PSTA presentation at the June 25, regular session to discuss the transportation issue once again.
In a slide show prepared for the May 28 meeting, but not presented, PSTA said it chose to initiate a rapid transit program along its “highest ridership corridor,” after receiving requests for “faster and more frequent service.”
According to PSTA the proposed interlocal agreement will save St. Pete Beach $100,000, eliminate the Pass-A-Grille trolley and bus idling at 8th Avenue, use smaller buses and a “city-preferred public beach shop location” at the County Beach Access Park, north of 46th Avenue.
The agreement also provides for “city approval for future changes,” PSTA said in its slide show.
Transit authority officials estimate BRT will serve 4,300 riders per day along the route.
“A traffic study conducted in 2017 by Jacobs Engineering showed no impacts to increasing traffic,” the transit authority’s report concluded.
Currently, PSTA operates three buses an hour, as part of its contract with St. Pete Beach, with BRT adding four buses an hour. The city manager said under the proposed interlocal agreement, local bus service will be reduced from three to two buses, which saves the city about $200,000 a year.
City Manager Alex Rey added if ridership is insufficient, the city could continue to reduce its locally contracted bus service. The city could potentially eliminate its locally contracted service and save about $600,000 a year, not counting the beach trolley.
Commissioners advised staff to place an “action Item” concerning PSTA on the Tuesday, July 9, agenda. At that time commissioners can adopt a contract negotiated by Rey and PSTA officials, or they can pass an earlier resolution totally in opposition to Bus Rapid Transit in St. Pete Beach.
Taking another route, city commissioners could direct staff to investigate the city contracting with private transportation providers and not renew the city’s bus contract with PSTA. Finally, the city could ratify the contract to lock-in concessions from the county transportation provider, while studying whether or not to renew its service contract with PSTA, so it could eventually provide its own service along Gulf Boulevard.
Alex Rey said after the last meeting a further round of talks with PSTA addressed “the main item that created a sense of dissatisfaction in the community.” A plan to use a proposed bus turn-around terminal on Cabrillo Avenue, south of the Don CeSar, was nixed. As a result of negotiations, the Cabrillo site “is no longer in play,” he advised commissioners.
Pass-A-Grille will be served by electric golf cart type transportation similar to Nickel Ride vehicles, he added.
Rey noted that under the proposed contract, a PSTA bus turn-around shelter will now be considered on 75th Avenue or the county park, with the city contracting with a private transportation vendor to provide service to Pass-A-Grille. PSTA also agrees to only use 40-foot long buses on Gulf Boulevard at least for the next three years.
The May 28 meeting drew a crowd, with almost all attendees opposed to Bus Rapid Transit or PSTA. City residents, and many living in South Pasadena and St. Petersburg, asked commissioners to adopt an earlier resolution opposing Bus Rapid Transit and not enter into a contract with PSTA. They argued opposing Bay Rapid Transit might help sway state transportation officials into denying a grant PSTA needs to initiate the Bus Rapid Transit Program. Others voiced concern with buses crowding roadways, asserting many buses ride through the city largely devoid of riders.
Commissioners noted Gulf Boulevard is a state road, so the city could not prevent PSTA from operating Bus Rapid Transit in the city, if that’s what the Department of Transportation approved.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher noted the city could protect some of its rights by adopting a contract with PSTA.
“My quandary has been if we sign the resolution to stop BRT, how vulnerable does that put us if BRT ends up coming.”
She said the interlocal agreement could provide some protection for the city.
“It’s an easy answer just to bring back a resolution rejecting BRT. I wonder about unintended consequences that puts our community at risk. If we enter into a local agreement we have control,” she added.