My husband and I have been enjoying winter escapes to Pinellas County beach communities for 40 years and Pass-a-Grille is a favorite, with its Gulf Beaches Museum, historic buildings, emerald water, bountiful seashells and unique shops and eateries. We fly from our home in Canada and choose to walk or use the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority system to get around.
Recently, for the first time this year, we headed to Pass-a-Grille — and sadly, it's likely our last. Instead of the Central Avenue Trolley taking us all the way, we had to disembark just past the Don CeSar and catch the new "Freebee" that would take us the last two miles.
In our view, there is nothing positive about this change:
• The extra bus connection wastes time -- a day in paradise is short enough.
• It's a hassle; the call-for-a-ride app didn't work and the phone number went to voicemail, so we waited and wondered, until it randomly arrived.
• The “Freebee” is, in our opinion, a glorified golf cart, holding only five passengers and lacking space for beach bags, chairs or coolers. On a Tuesday in January, we had to wait our turn, while it took five people who were ahead of us and came back; imagine the lineup in peak season.
• The pickup/dropoff did not feel safe to us for this tiny vehicle, which stops barely around the corner from the bus stop on Gulf Boulevard (where the buses are large enough to force traffic to wait behind them), creating potential for a rear-ender by an unsuspecting driver rounding the corner with no idea the narrow "Freebee" is at the curb.
Who benefits from this change?
We were told by a fella serving us food in Pass-a-Grille, that the locals and merchants didn't want the bus with its noise and fumes passing through. Do they know PSTA has hybrid buses? We have been on several, including the Central Avenue Trolley. Ironically, from the beach, we witnessed four huge noisy trucks with beer, Coke, food and other goods rumbling in, unloading and rumbling out, between noon and 2 p.m. According to a local publication, PSTA predicts the new plan will bring 89,000 fewer riders into Pass-a-Grille annually. I think it's a no-brainer that this drop will be a game-changer for the local businesses.
The "Freebee" brochure boasts of its electric, emission-free, green advantage. As regular transit users, we frequently talk to other riders. Of those who are visitors, the vast majority have their cars in Florida, but ride the Suncoast Beach Trolley or CAT because they like the idea of a simple, carefree way to see what the beaches offer. They won't find an extra connection, fooling with an app or waiting for a ride that offers five seats at a time with no room for their beach gear appealing. No, they will take their cars to Pass-a-Grille and add to the emissions and traffic congestion.
So, who benefits?
The people who made this decision should reverse it before tourism in Pass-a-Grille takes a serious hit. Unless their goal is to make visiting folks feel unwelcome.