ST. PETERSBURG — Using money recently freed up in its budget, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority plans on extending run times on some of its more popular bus routes and may add another route into Tampa.
The move comes ahead of a proposed expansion of the entire system as well as a 2014 referendum that could ultimately fund a light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, expanded bus routes and other transportation improvements. It’s the fist time in years the taxpayer-funded transit agency is expanding service rather than cutting it.
PSTA is still trying to figure out which routes it will expand, but popular ones such as Route 52, which runs along 49th Street, are strong contenders.
“There are a lot of things along the corridor that people are going to and from,” said PSTA spokesman Bob Lasher.
The 49th Street route runs from downtown Clearwater to downtown St. Petersburg until 11:00 p.m. and runs past the Pinellas Technical Education Centers, the criminal courthouse and jail, along with many business.
The agency is using public input it has on file to determine the handful of high-priority routes that will see increased service.
PSTA only has about $250,000 to spend, so there’s only so much it can do. The extended run times may actually occur along routes that were cut to save money during the recession. The agency may also add more cross-bay connections for riders wishing to go to Tampa.
The enhancements will be especially targeted toward commuters who don’t work traditional hours.
“One of the biggest problems we have is providing late-night workers a chance to take the bus home,” Lasher said. “We see that all around the county, unfortunately.”
In the coming months, agency staffers will come up with recommendations for the service expansions, and the PSTA board of directors will have to approve them. They will likely go into effect February of next year.
“With the efficiency savings and improving economy, we want to provide the best service to Pinellas citizens we can,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller.