PSTA approves agreement with Greyhound

James Bradford, PSTA’s chief operating officer, left, and Ed Weatherford, Greyhound’s Regional Real Estate manager, talk about details of a new agreement to share space at Shoppes at Park Place during an Aug. 28 meeting.

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Greyhound Lines are sharing bus traffic and customer service space in Pinellas Park as of Sept. 1.

PSTA Board of Directors unanimously approved a license and easement agreement with Greyhound and Shoppes at Park Place during its Aug. 28 meeting. The agreement continues through Aug. 31, 2024.

James Bradford, PSTA’s chief operating officer, and Ed Weatherford, Greyhound’s Regional Real Estate manager, updated the directors with details of the partnership. Weatherford said the deal with PSTA was part of Greyhound’s nationwide project to collaborate with transit lines to provide a better experience for its customers.

Greyhound will share bus space and the customer service window at the Shoppes at Park Place. The service center will expand its hours to 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Greyhound picked the area due to its proximity to I-275 and because it was close to shopping, dining and entertainment, as well as multiple connecting bus routes provided by PSTA.

The license agreement includes insurance and liabilities specifications; designations for Greyhound bus boarding and alighting; maintenance and repair requirements; security coverage; access restrictions; and other responsibilities.

Bradford called the agreement a “win-win” for everyone — Greyhound and residents of Pinellas.

Greyhound serves nearly 60 cities and towns in Florida and makes connections throughout the United States, with the exceptions of Hawaii and Alaska.

Greyhound will operate seven days a week and depart Shoppes at Park Place’s customer service center at 8:20 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 4:40 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. It will provide alternative transportation to Tampa to supplement PSTA’s 100Xand 300X routes.

The agreement allows for two additional five-year renewals. Greyhound will pay PSTA $1,667 on the first day of each calendar month.

Bus stop at Heritage Presbyterian Apartments

Kathy Perrin, service coordinator at Heritage Presbyterian Apartments, 10200 122nd Ave. in Largo, talked to directors about concerns due to plans to discontinue bus service to the apartments.

She said she had talked to Bob Lasher, External Affairs officer, that morning and learned that PSTA was going to provide Direct Connect and DART service for the 400 residents who live at the apartments.

She said the residents of the building, who are low income with an average age of 70, were dependent on PSTA and reminded the directors that seniors wanted to “age in place” and needed help to do so.

“These are tough times for elderly people,” she said. “They lose all they have. They don’t want to lose the bus.”

Lasher explained that alternative services would be provided via Direct Connect, which is a free or low-cost service from United Taxi that they can call as many times as they need seven days a week to get a ride to the bus stop on Seminole Boulevard. Some also may be able to use DART, PSTA’s Demand Response Transportation services for people who are disabled.

The reason PSTA is eliminating the stop at Heritage is to shorten travel time for riders of Route 18. Lasher said making the loop to the apartment complex adds about 10 minutes to the length of the route, which already takes more than two hours.

PSTA staff will conduct training sessions to teach residents about Direct Connect and DART, and future sessions will be held to make sure new residents know how to use the service. Training sessions are currently scheduled on Sept. 19 and Oct. 22.

Director Vince Cocks, citizen representative, asked staff to monitor the situation and make sure taxis are available so residents are able to get to their appointments on time.

BRT project update

Board Chair Janet Long asked CEO Brad Miller to answer a resident’s concern about a recent contract amendment for design of the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project. She said the unnamed resident had been sending in emails about the added cost of the contract.

Eight of 15 Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board members unanimously approved a contract amendment June 26 for preliminary engineering and final design services for the project. The rest of the directors were absent.

The Central Avenue BRT project is a 10-mile rapid transit connection along PSTA’s highest ridership corridor between downtown St. Petersburg and the beach.

PSTA started planning the project in 2015 and moved into the design phase in 2018. PSTA awarded a contract to H.W. Lochner on Aug. 22, 2018 for a not-to-exceed amount of $1.7 million to perform preliminary engineering and final design services.

However, Lochner needed an additional $1.85 million to continue work, which brought the contract cost for the first two phases of the preliminary engineering and design to $3.55 million.

Miller said Aug. 28 that although the contract for design services had increased, it had not affected the total estimated cost of the project, which remains at $43.9 million due to the use of contingency funds. He said Lochner would be back for another contract amendment once construction begins.

PSTA has applied for funding from the Federal Transportation Administration’s Small Starts Capital Investments Grants Program, which officials say would pay for about 50% of the project with 24% coming from the state and 26% from local funding.

Directors approved the purchase of nine 40-foot hybrid electric buses from Gillig Corporation Aug. 28 that will be designed for use on the BRT project. The cost is not to exceed $7.5 million, or $150,000 per bus for equipment and services.

Directors wanted to know if PSTA could get out of the contract if it doesn’t get the federal grant. Henry Lukaski, director of Maintenance, said PSTA could back out up until about July. PSTA should know whether the grant would be coming by then, he said.

Another short discussion took place about the use of hybrid electric versus electric buses. While electric buses would provide the least impact on the environment, the cost is prohibitive since about $20 million would be needed to beef up the infrastructure and provide charging stations.

When comparing the cost of diesel-fueled buses to the hybrids, the cost to purchase a diesel bus is less, but when operating costs are added in, the hybrid is the least expensive option.

The buses will be paid for with federal, state and local funds. Delivery of the buses would occur in 2020.

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