News of bikes on buses getting around
By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
LARGO -- When the No. 62 bus stopped outside the Home Depot along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, Charles Locke stepped off and walked around to the front, where his bike hung like an oversized hood ornament.
Locke pulled down a metal bar, unhooked his mountain bike and waved to the bus driver before pedaling away.
"I don't have a license so this is the next best thing," the 38-year-old Clearwater resident said. "It's very handy and for two bucks, you can't go wrong."
Locke is among a growing number of people using Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses to get their bicycles around the county. When PSTA began its Bikes on Buses program in 1998, it outfitted 100 buses with racks. About 2,000 passengers used them each month.
Now with all of PSTA's 174 buses equipped, and about 10,000 riders using the service monthly, PSTA is struggling to accommodate everyone on some routes. The buses can only hold two bikes at a time.
"The only thing we're able to do is add more buses to the road, but there are some budgetary limitations to that," said Roger Sweeney, executive director of PSTA. "I don't know what the solution to that is right now, to tell you the truth."
To participate, riders must pay a one-time $2 fee and take a short course in using the racks. Riders are then issued picture ID cards.
While the permit does not cover bus fare, it is valid with the Hartline Bikes on Buses program in Tampa.
Bikes on bus programs are not exclusive to the Tampa Bay area.
"It has been tried in several other cities throughout the country," Sweeney said. "It came up in an internal staff meeting when someone said, "Let's start it on a trial basis here,' -- it's all history from there."
PSTA obtained $152,000 in state and federal grants to buy and install the racks. It used the remaining money to advertise the new system and establish bike permit stations around the county. The stations are equipped with demonstration racks, bicycles, training videos and lamination machines for the ID cards.
There are five permit stations, including ones at the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater and St. Pete Beach City hall.
"It was basically a trial program to start with," Sweeney said. "We had no expectations and no idea where this was going to go."
Much of the rack use, PSTA officials found, has been along routes that travel from one end of the county to the other. Route 18, for example, travels from downtown Clearwater, stops at many area malls and ends at Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg.
"We did a survey late last year and what we found is the majority of people who are using our bicycle racks are using them to go to work," said Sweeney. "The next biggest thing is they are using it for recreation."
Sweeney says there have been no reports of mishaps, such as bikes falling off racks.
"Interestingly enough we have had people leave the bus without taking their bikes," he said. "Then they obviously call for them and when they come in looking for their bikes, they're a bit embarrassed."
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