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New buses could put city on the fast track

Published May 11, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - An express bus guaranteed to beat traffic lights might be zipping passengers across the city by 2008.

Such a "bus rapid transit" vehicle would go fast, look slick and not stop as often while traveling First avenues N and S, St. Petersburg's east-west arteries linking downtown to the beaches. Those buses would be able to send a signal to traffic lights to have a perpetual green light before them.

Part of its purpose would be to attract riders in an era of rising gas prices and in a mostly built-out county where new road-building is iffy, transportation officials say.

At a workshop last week, the bus agency's staff unveiled a five-year blueprint whose first phase includes improvements on seven of the county's 32 routes.

Five of the seven affect buses serving St. Petersburg. For example, routes 5, 7 and 15 would run every 30 minutes instead of every hour. Route 18 would run every 20 minutes instead of 30; route 19, which runs from Tarpon Springs to Eckerd College, would get an extra bus to increase weekend and holiday service.

The year 2007 would bring more frequent service for routes 11 and 38, both of which serve St. Petersburg. And in 2008, the bus rapid transit is envisioned for First avenues N and S, known in transportation parlance as the Central Avenue corridor.

Another would travel Ulmerton Road in mid Pinellas County by 2009 and another would serve McMullen-Booth Road in north Pinellas in 2010.

The buses planned for the corridors are striking vehicles. They would be similar to those used in Las Vegas. Instead of the usual squared-off front, the buses have rounded snouts that give them a trainlike appearance.

But the computerized ability to control traffic lights might be the most interesting feature.

If a bus needs another few seconds to make the green light, a computer system on the bus can hold the "go" signal. Likewise, if the bus needs a red light to turn green more quickly, the vehicle is wired to make it happen.

"Theoretically, they don't have to stop for the lights," said St. Petersburg City Council member John Bryan, who also is on the PSTA board.

Ridership on the 163-bus fleet is approaching 10-million annually. That's projected to increase by perhaps 22 percent during the plan's five years.

[Last modified May 11, 2005, 00:46:18]

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