ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s Board of Directors unanimously approved on Dec. 11 its new leadership for the coming year.

The new chair will be Belleair Bluffs commissioner Joe Barkley, and incoming chair of the Pinellas County Commission Pat Gerard will serve as vice chair.

Barkley has served on the PSTA Board since 2013 and has been a Belleair Bluffs commissioner since 2009. He has more than 40 years of experience in the insurance industry as an agent, corporate executive and agency owner before retiring in 2018.

Gerard has served on the County Commission since 2014. She is the former mayor of Largo. Since 1992, she has worked with Family Resources, serving as chief operating officer. She is currently chief grants officer.

Barkley and Gerard also will serve on the Executive Committee with secretary/treasurer Gina Driscoll, St. Petersburg council member; at-large committee member Dan Saracki, Oldsmar council member; and former PSTA Chair and County Commissioner Janet Long.

Board members thanked Pinellas County commissioner Dave Eggers for his five years of service on the board. Eggers is being replaced by Commissioner Ken Welch, who served on the PSTA board from 2006-2016, including two years as chair.

In other business during the agency’s last meeting of 2019, the board approved a contract with A&K Energy Conservation for construction and installation of an in-route electric bus charger. The amount of the contract is not to exceed $192,000.

PSTA currently has two all-electric buses that operate on the Looper route in downtown St. Petersburg. These buses plug into the 80kW charger at the maintenance facility to recharge overnight. It takes between 3.5-4 hours to charge each bus.

PSTA has ordered four additional electric buses that are expected to arrive in fall 2020. In preparation for their arrival, staff wants to put in an on-route 250kW inductive wireless charging system at the PSTA headquarters layby in February.

Inductive systems charge the battery of an electric vehicle wirelessly through a charging pad embedded in the roadway. The time to recharge is about 1 hour. The batteries will charge while the buses are in service by connecting to the charger to “top off” each time the bus comes to the layby.

The new charging system will be paid for using money from the Pinellas County Commission, which allocated $589,000 in BP settlement money for an electric bus charging station.

Board member Charlie Justice, a county commissioner, asked about initial plans that called for a charging station in downtown St. Petersburg. Chief executive Brad Miller said there hasn’t been a need for a downtown charger so the plan now is to install it at the layby.

Justice also asked about cost since the county allocated $589,000 in settlement money but the contract is for only $192,000. Miller said PSTA also spent $387,000 on equipment.

PSTA staff is working with Duke Energy to acquire additional power required for overnight charging. Electric buses are the future of PSTA’s fleet, so more power will be needed. Part of the planning process is looking at the possibility of installing solar panels.