Buses bulge, even in summer

More people rode PSTA buses this year and in August than ever, and a lot of bikes tagged along.

Published September 27, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Rising gas prices made a difference. So did extra convenience for cyclists who combine their transportation modes. And perhaps, officials speculate, there is a subtle move toward wider acceptance of mass transit.

Whatever the combined dynamic, it has hammered out three ridership records for the county bus company - one for the year, one for August and one for monthly bikes-on-buses use.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials also have announced a fourth record that came with this week's introduction of more frequent buses on five routes.

The change resulted in the largest single service increase in PSTA history, officials said.

PSTA board member Karl Nurse said of the record numbers: "The salesman in me tells me there's an underlying demand there that's considerable."

The figures:

- Through August, buses have carried 10.4-million passengers this year - the same number during all of 2005. Data is compiled based on the PSTA's fiscal calendar, which runs from October through September. Officials expect this month's figures to add another million riders.

- August set a monthly record; buses carried more than 1.029-million riders.

- Also in August, more than 26,000 passengers loaded their bikes on buses - nearly 4,000 more than the previous highest monthly total and 47 percent higher than the August 2005 figure. The PSTA ended the $2 bikes-on-buses permit fee in June, which likely contributed to the jump, Nurse said.

He said the record-setting figures are significant because summer is typically a slower season for ridership and because - until this week's boost - the PSTA had implemented only a small service increase this year.

The numbers jump came before a fare increase that takes effect Sunday. Basic fares will jump 25 cents to $1.50.

The service increase includes four routes that will run every 30 minutes during weekday morning and afternoon rush hours instead of every hour.

Routes 5 and 7 run between downtown St. Petersburg and Tyrone Square Mall; Route 15 between downtown St. Petersburg and the Gulfport Casino; and Route 78 between downtown Clearwater and Westfield Countryside mall.

Route 18, which runs between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Clearwater, will come every 20 minutes instead of every 30 during the rush-hour schedule.

Now, Nurse said, "I think our challenge is to identify what stands between people riding the bus and not, and fix those things."

He suggested express travel on longer routes, for example, that would appeal to workers.