PSTA approves purchase of barriers for bus operators

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board of Directors gave unanimous approval June 26 to a contract for barriers with extended tempered glass to shield drivers from danger.

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board of Directors gave unanimous approval June 26 to a contract to purchase barriers for its buses to protect drivers.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller said the board had asked staff to move with haste to keep its employees safe after the deadly May 18 stabbing of a HART bus driver in Tampa. At a June 7 meeting with PSTA bus operators and union representatives everyone had agreed on a barrier design, Miller said. An invitation for bid was issued on June 12.

Two bids came in June 21. The high bid, $1.4 million, was from Complete Coach Works. The low bid, almost $1.2 million, was submitted by Aftermarket Parts Company LLC, whose parent company is Transit Holding, a subsidiary of New Flyer Holdings Inc., North American’s largest bus manufacturer.

Staff did a technical review of Aftermarket Parts’ bid and determined it was acceptable. And a responsibility check confirmed the company had the capacity to do the work. Staff recommended acceptance of the low bid.

The barriers will be paid for from the capital reserve fund, specifically money set aside for an intermodal station in downtown Clearwater.

Adding safety barriers to protect drivers is a national trend as assaults on drivers become more common, according to a press release. Congressional leaders introduced The Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act this year. The bill would require transit agencies to add safety improvements to help reduce the number of assaults.

PSTA is one of the first agencies in the nation to install safety barriers on all its bus, according to Amalgamated Transit Union representative David Roscow. The barriers will have extended tempered glass to shield drivers from danger. It will take four to six weeks to manufacture the barriers, and crews are expected to begin installation in August with all PSTA buses upgraded by the end of October.

Money for BRT project

The board unanimously approved an interlocal funding agreement with the city of St. Petersburg for $4 million for the Central Avenue BRT project.

The project is an 11-mile rapid transit connection between downtown St. Petersburg’s innovation district and the cities of South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach. PSTA expects funding for the $43.9 million project to come from federal, state and local sources with about 50% from a Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant.

The project is currently in the FTA project development phases. If the grant is approved, BRT service could begin in 2020-2021.

The city of St. Petersburg adopted a resolution June 13 approving an interlocal agreement with PSTA to provide funding of $4 million for the project. According to the agreement, the city’s money will come from its Intown Community Redevelopment Area and Multimodal Impacts Fee Capital Improvement Fund. The money must be used within the CRA.

Draft budget

Debbie Leous, chief financial officer, presented a preliminary draft budget for fiscal year 2020. A final draft budget will be presented Aug. 28.

The $86 million operating budget assumes lower passenger fare revenues next year due to the Flamingo Fares project, which includes fare capping. However, increased property values should provide an additional $3.9 million for the budget.

The budget includes $2 million for salary increases and the addition of a new project manager, project coordination, mobility associate for DART and up to nine additional service operators. It also includes negotiated union step and wage increases and 3% merit-based pay raises for administrative staff.

Fringe benefits are increasing $1.7 million and health insurance is going up by 4.4%.

Leous has budgeted the cost of diesel fuel at $2.30 a gallon, but the contract is not yet in place. She is working on a joint solicitation with HART. Purchased transportation costs for DART are budgeted to increase by nearly $498,000.

The preliminary capital projects budget is just over $48 million. It includes the design and start of construction for the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project. It also includes purchase of four more electric replacement buses using money from a FTA Low-No Grant. Leous has budgeted for 16 replacement trolleys plus four more trolley buses.

The last two capital projects on the list are completion of design for the Clearwater Downtown Intermodal Station and technology and security improvements.

Leous anticipates a budget deficit of $504,764 in the current budget year, which is less than expected. She says the deficit is expected to be less due to a reduction in operation expenses and an increase in passenger fare revenue.

Ridership report

Miller reported that total ridership in May was up 5.9% compared to last year and ridership was up 1.6% year-to-date. Total bus passenger trips came in at 915,909 compared to 881,259 in May 2018. Other bus passenger trips, including East Lake, totaled 97,096, a 26.8% increase over 2018.

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