More electric vehicles coming to Pinellas County in the future

A model of the Gillig bus that PSTA plans to add to its fleet. The authority’s board of directors has approved a deal to purchase 60 of the buses over the next five years.

LARGO — Pinellas County and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority recently made decisions that move forward their missions to make their vehicle fleets greener in the coming years.

Pinellas County commissioners voted 6-1 Dec. 7 to approve the purchase of heavy- and light-duty vehicles and equipment including three fully electric sedans, three fully electric vans and 24 electric golf carts. The cost of the contract is not to exceed $5.66 million.

Commissioner Janet Long voted no because she wants the county to buy more electric vehicles.

“I think we can do better than six,” she said, referring to the three sedans and three vans.

County Administrator Barry Burton said the county didn’t have the infrastructure to support more electric vehicles at this time. He said more charging stations were needed. He said staff was applying for grants for funding. The county has a five-year plan in place to transition to an electric fleet.

Commission Chair Dave Eggers pointed to an overall supply shortage and said manufacturers were working to retool their facilities to produce electric vehicles, especially trucks. Burton said the industry needed a bigger supply and to catch up with demand.

Commissioner Karen Seel agreed with Long’s statement that the county should buy more than six. She recommended only buying necessary replacements for now and then re-evaluating the need next year. Long said that was a reasonable solution; however, she wants to “speed things up” and not go at a “snail’s pace.”

Burton said the five-year plan was very intentional and included the need for chargers and other investments. He said it also tied into the county’s space plans. He said it would take several years to get the infrastructure in place.

Joe Lauro, director of administrative services, said only one manufacturer was making pickup trucks right now and it was only making 3,000 a year. The hope is that more manufacturers will start making pickup trucks and heavy equipment to provide more competition in the market.

Long believes that the supply chain will even out sooner rather than later.

“It’s all about the money,” she said, adding that a change in culture is needed — “how we think.”

PSTA purchases electric buses

The PSTA board of directors unanimously approved the purchase of 60 all-electric buses at its Dec. 8 meeting. The plan to buy the buses over the next five years is part of its mission to make its fleet “clean and green” by 2050.

The electric buses are part of the PSTA’s five-year bus replacement plan with an estimated cost of $80 million.

The buses will run throughout the system with the 60 new buses expected to be put into service by 2024. The board approved electric bus purchasing contracts last month.

The electric buses will have three methods of recharging: overnight charging, regenerative braking and the use of on-route charging stations. The battery range averages about 200 miles, which is equivalent to 14 hours of operating time. Officials say it will save about $20,000 a year in diesel fuel costs.

“Pinellas County is pleased to support PSTA’s transition to zero-emission buses by modernizing the fleet over the next five years,” PSTA Board Chair Pat Gerard said in a press release. “Through this electric vehicle investment, we are ensuring that Pinellas County residents benefit from cleaner air as we move toward a more sustainable, carbon-free energy system.”

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.