After a decade of work, the region’s first bus rapid transit line makes its debut | Business Observer

With fanfare and speeches that wouldn’t be out of place at a political rally, the SunRunner – Tampa Bay’s first line of bus rapid transit – made its public debut on Thursday, October 20 at an evening launch in downtown St. Petersburg.

The event featured members of the St. Petersburg High School Marching Band, mascots from the Tampa Bay Rays and Rowdies, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony complete with confetti bursts. Less than 24 hours later, at 6 a.m. Friday, the SunRunner’s first passengers boarded at St. Pete Beach for a quick trip to downtown St. Pete made possible by dedicated lanes and platforms. raised for faster and safer boarding and disembarking.

According to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, which operates the SunRunner, more than 10,000 people used the service, which cost $44 million to build and includes specially designed hybrid-powered buses, during its four days. The Federal Transit Administration has allocated $28.1 million for the SunRunner. The Florida Department of Transportation, the PSTA and the City of St. Petersburg also contributed funds.

“Today is the culmination of so much hard work and marks the beginning of a new era here in Pinellas County,” said Yvette Taylor, FTA Regional Administrator for Florida. She, along with several other city, county and state officials, gave speeches at the SunRunner launch. “This 10-mile line will improve everyone’s access to jobs, schools, medical appointments and just to see friends and family.”

According to the PSTA, there are over 50,000 jobs and 40,000 residents within half a mile of the SunRunner Road, making it an asset not only for tourism but also an economic opportunity for residents. Not everyone reacted positively to the new BRT service. The City of St. Pete Beach has objected to the SunRunner, even though the municipality bears no financial cost, and some residents and businesses have expressed concern over increasing traffic congestion along Gulf Boulevard.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority expects the SunRunner to provide greater mobility and economic opportunity for residents with disabilities. (Courtesy picture)

From Greenlight Pinellas to All For Transportation in Hillsborough County, transit initiatives in the Tampa Bay area have struggled to find traction with a majority of ratepayers, some of whom have banded together as part of the No Tax For Tracks campaign to oppose a light rail system. . Some proposals, such as Greenlight Pinellas, have failed at the polls, while All For Transportation, which would levy a 1% sales tax on highway projects, has repeatedly faced legal challenges that have ousted it altogether. ballot.

These setbacks, however, were clearly in the rearview mirror when SunRunner launched. St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch was county commissioner when Greenlight Pinellas went to vote, and he says that move, while ultimately unsuccessful, “laid the groundwork” for BRT.

“These steps, painful as they are, have helped us get to this point where we all know we live in the best community,” Welch said at the SunRunner launch event. “But other than that, what will make this even better is if we’re more accessible, more affordable, and more sustainable, and modern, efficient public transit does all of those things.”

With their bright colors and graphics designed by local artist Catherine Woods, SunRunner buses and stops are hard to miss. (Courtesy picture)

To encourage people to try SunRunner, PSTA made the service free for the first six months. After that, the fare will be in line with normal rides: $2.25 per ride, or $1.25 for residents on the reduced fare.

“It will be the model for more improved public transit options in St. Petersburg and the region as a whole,” Welch said. “As our city grows, SunRunner will provide a premium transportation option, something we’ve never had before, and remove vehicles from our roads, resulting in cleaner air. and less traffic, plus relief from increasing parking demands. That’s what progress looks like, folks.

Welch’s last point, about parking, is especially important given the rapid growth of downtown St. Pete. Developing the SunRunner route necessitated the removal of on-street parking along high-traffic routes, but this move simultaneously allowed the city to create more lanes for bicycles, e-bikes, and e-scooters, which have become increasingly popular transportation options as the city’s younger demographic trends.

“It’s no secret – parking is very limited downtown and on St. Pete Beach,” says Pat Gerard, Pinellas County Commissioner and Chairman of the PSTA Board of Directors. “The SunRunner will make traveling between two of Pinellas County’s most popular destinations easier and easier. You won’t spend hours looking for a parking space. Climb aboard and you will be there quickly.

People of all ages, however, will appreciate the SunRunner’s many comforts, which include free Wi-Fi internet service, charging ports at every seat, and indoor bike storage. The buses are also equipped with transmitters that communicate with traffic lights along the 10-mile, 16-stop route, turning them green as vehicles approach.

City, county, state, and federal officials celebrated the launch of the Pinellas County SunRunner bus rapid transit line on October 24. (Photo offered)

“Between this technology, a dedicated lane and limited stops, the SunRunner is approximately 30% faster than current bus service,” David Gwynn, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary, District 7, said in a statement. “The SunRunner is unlike any other transit system in the area.”

With its traffic priority system and frequent service – buses will arrive every 15 minutes until 8 p.m., then every 30 minutes until midnight, seven days a week – PSTA says SunRunner users will benefit a service closer to light rail, rather than a traditional bus service.

“My hope,” Gerard said at the inaugural event, “is that SunRunner will connect with a new generation and show them that you don’t have to have a car to live in this beautiful city. Either By the way, we’re the largest metropolitan area in the country that doesn’t have a public transit system. So, we’re working on it, and this is just the beginning. SunRunner shows we need to support public transit. and invest in transport – we can’t keep building more roads.

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