PSTA takes steps to protect bus operators by installing barriers

If approved, barriers with extended tempered glass will be installed in all 210 PSTA buses by the end of October.

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is moving quickly to provide better protection for its bus operators in the wake of the deadly May 18 stabbing of a HART driver in Tampa.

Bus operators and representatives from Services Employees International Union attended PSTA’s May 29 meeting to request that the board make safety a priority.

“We’re doing everything we can for the safety of our employees,” said Brad Miller, PSTA CEO, during a June 3 executive committee meeting.

He said bus operators had differing opinions on the barrier now in place on a single bus that is being used as a pilot. He said a variety of barriers was available, but not all would fit on PSTA buses, which are manufactured by GILLIG.

Some want to try a variety of barriers at least tentatively, Miller said.

“We’re trying to convince then not to do that,” he said.

He said a meeting was scheduled June 7 with bus operators, union representatives and the bus manufacturer to try to reach an agreement on a barrier design. The plan would then move forward to equip all 210 PSTA buses with that barrier.

If an agreement were made on the barrier, it would be taken to the finance committee, which is scheduled to meet June 19. If the finance committee approves the price quote and contract, it would go to the Board of Directors to make a decision on June 26.

PSTA Chair Janet Long wanted to know what the drivers’ were saying about the barrier.

Miller said in a survey, 95% indicated that wanted a barrier. Most want something that would completely seal them off from the public. However, a barrier like that is not commercially available, he said.

The June 7 meeting was scheduled to show drivers what is available so they can pick something that can be manufactured and installed as quickly as possible.

Finance committee Chair Joseph Barclay asked about funding for the barriers, which are estimated to cost more than $1 million. He said it was important to get enough information to make the right decision.

“We don’t want to do this again next year,” he said.

Miller said PSTA staff had reached out to other agencies outside Tampa Bay on what he described as a “hot topic” of bus safety. However, he reiterated that only a small number of barrier designs would fit on PSTA buses, which narrow down the options.

He was hopeful that a decision would be make at the June 7 meeting. As to funding, Miller said PSTA financial staff had reorganized the capital improvement schedule to provide money for the barriers.

“This is something that has to be done,” he said.

Barclay asked about installation. Miller said the barrier manufacturer could deliver the product but it cannot do the installation. A decision has to be made to either hire a separate installer or do the work by PSTA staff.

PSTA sent out a press release June 7 that said an agreement had been reached with bus operators and SEIU on safety barriers. The new barriers on all PSTA buses will have extended tempered glass to cover significantly more area than the pilot barrier PSTA has been testing for six months.

Cost is estimated at $4,000-$5,000 per installed shield, or $840,000-$1,050,000. If approved by the finance committee on June 19 and the full board on June 26, it will take 4-6 weeks for the company to manufacture the barriers, and crews are expected to begin installation of the enclosures in August with all PSTA buses equipped with these safety improvements by the end of October.

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

Revised