Bus route plan gets bumpy
Changes are proposed to add southern beach cities.
By CRISTINA SILVA
Published February 4, 2007
An argument over a new bus system has surfaced that boils down to whether tourists would prefer going to the mall or the beach.
The Pinellas transit authority's plan to create an express bus system from St. Petersburg to Tyrone Square Mall and on to Madeira Beach has stirred debate among some south Pinellas city officials and business owners who would prefer that the new transportation route head into southern beach cities and provide a jolt to the county's growing tourism industry.
"There are more hotels in the south end of beach," said St. Petersburg City Council member Jeff Danner, a member of the transit authority who is now considering changing the bus route. "There are just simply not as many hotels in Madeira Beach."
Danner has enlisted the help of city officials in Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and St. Pete Beach in the hopes of persuading the transit authority to change the route during its next meeting later this month.
Bus Rapid Transit service, or BRT, has been in the works for several months. County transit officials said they plan to start the service with the Tyrone Square Mall route that would include about 10 express buses, which could cost taxpayers up to $900,000 each.
Seen as a potential solution to the county's crucial need for a public transportation system, BRT would make fewer stops and run more often than the regular bus service.
In October, the transit authority settled on having the bus run through Tyrone based on recommendations from residents.
"It is really to allow people to get out of their cars," said Deborah Kynes, chairwoman of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. "Tyrone makes the perfect sense strictly because eventually we want BRT throughout the county and somehow we have to get it up north."
The bus route could also have a significant impact in southern Pinellas, where visitors in Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach already make frequent trips into St. Petersburg on the county's Suncoast Beach Trolley, tourism and city officials said.
"Any express bus that is going to take people from the beach to downtown where the museums and the restaurants and the Pier are, I'm all for it," said Tony Satterfield, chairman of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and general manager of the Alden Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach.
Small business owners across the county also argue a major transportation connection to Tyrone Square Mall and its cookie cutter chain stores could have a significant negative impact on their bottom lines and the communities they serve.
"The impact of a major transportation project that we see as bypassing the corridor is scary for us," said Bradley Erikson, president of the Grand Central District Association in St. Petersburg and an owner of Grand Central Stained Glass & Graphics. "There are true concerns about traffic drying up along Central Avenue."
John Ostermier, who owns Slimers Value Center, a small apparel shop with two branches in St. Pete Beach, said a beach route would better suit the interests of small business owners.
"It would help businesses in both downtown and on the beach because people would shop on both ends," he said.
In Madeira Beach, officials are wary of any changes that would reroute the express bus away from their city.
"I would think they would want to go where the action is," said Mayor Charles Parker. "You can't stop people from going to the mall."Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the numbers
number of express buses
possible top bus cost
number of PSTA routes, including two express routes to Hillsborough County
million, number of riders annually
[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:55:06]
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