ST. PETERSBURG — City residents fed up with their daily commute to Tampa soon could have an alternative to being stuck behind the wheel: a new park-and-ride service from downtown St. Petersburg.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is planning to partner with the city to set up a park-and-ride lot within a city parking facility on First Avenue South. From there, residents could hop on almost a dozen regular PSTA routes including the Central Avenue Trolley that connects to Pinellas beaches.
By the end of this year, the park-and-ride also will be a boarding point for a new cross-bay express route giving PSTA riders a direct service from St. Petersburg to West Shore and Tampa. Existing routes to Tampa run from Largo and the Gateway area.
Eventually, the new route also could connect with the new planned transit hub at West Shore, which would have links to Tampa International Airport and other parts of Tampa.
The park-and-ride facility, which could begin as soon as Sept. 1, will start small.
Under an initial two-year agreement, PSTA would pay $90,000 a year to St. Petersburg for use of 27 parking spaces on the northwest corner of the lot. The money is coming from a $200,000 state grant, the balance of which will go toward a shelter, signs and maintenance.
Residents who use the service would be able to park for free. The service is being established in response to requests from riders, said Bob Lasher, PSTA spokesman.
“We receive a lot of requests for information on riding the Central Avenue Trolley,” he said. “People want to go right out to any of the beaches and not worry about finding a parking spot or paying for one.”
Many of the 280 spaces at the parking lot are often vacant so leasing them to PSTA makes financial sense for the city, said Evan Mory, city director for transportation and parking management.
Monthly parking passes for the lot used to cost $25 but were lowered to $10 to try to attract more drivers. The city also agreed to lease 150 spaces to a local developer. The lot does get busy on Tampa Bay Rays game days and other special events when the city charges up to $20 for parking.
As part of the project, the city plans to resurface parking areas and add some spaces for drivers with disabilities. New signs will advertise the park-and-ride service.
“It’s a good deal for both parties; it’s guaranteed revenue and long-term revenue,” Mory said.
PSTA and the city also recently collaborated on a new program in which the city pays about $30,000 a year for workers to be able to ride PSTA buses and trolleys for free by showing their work ID badge.
The new express service to Tampa is planned regardless of whether voters approve the Greenlight Pinellas mass-transit plan in November’s upcoming referendum, Lasher said.
PSTA officials have not finalized a schedule but hope it can run more frequently and at later hours than the current cross-bay services from Largo and Gateway that do not run on weekends because of restrictions in the grants that fund them. Service on Saturdays could be included.
Lasher admitted that with only 27 spots, the park-and-ride facility is limited but said PSTA would look for ways to expand it if it proves popular.
“We always would like to have more but we’ll take what we can get,” Lasher said. “This is the first step. It will be fun to see how it works out.”