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Bus Battle: St. Pete Beach opposes expanding bus service

St. Petersburg's mayor has expressed frustration with St. Pete Beach’s apparent unwillingness to negotiate.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The city of St. Pete Beach voted in an emergency meeting Thursday morning to oppose a county plan to expand bus rapid transit service to the beach community. 

The unanimous vote came after the city received a letter Wednesday from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman expressing frustration with St. Pete Beach’s apparent unwillingness to negotiate about the bus line.

The St. Petersburg City Council approved $4 million on Thursday to expand the Bus Rapid Transit project, which is run by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and would include routes to St. Pete Beach.

“We would like to thank the St. Petersburg City Council for their tremendous show of support for a project that will better connect our region, so that residents, employees, and tourists have faster and more reliable ways to travel home, to work, and to explore,” PSTA Chief Executive Officer Brad Miller said. “We believe this Rapid Transit Project is a win-win for everyone. Every beach community is seeing tourism explode. We are going to help manage that growth and reduce congestion by keeping cars off the road by providing innovative, convenient alternatives."

In a media release, the city said the BRT project would "offer faster rides to world-class attractions, from the Gulf beaches to the renowned Dali Museum, Tropicana Field, and University of South Florida in downtown St. Pete."

The project would use 40-foot buses running in semi-dedicated lanes. Officials say it would cut the time for a ride from St. Pete to St. Pete Beach from about 55 to 35 minutes. 

"For less than $5 round trip, St. Pete Beach residents could ride to a Tampa Bay Rays game, and not have to worry about paying for parking or driving home." the city said.

The city said the BRT line would open in late 2020 or early 2021.

“I do believe in mass transit, but I want to make sure that it’s right for what we have,” said St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson. “We want to make sure that we continue to talk, that’s the whole purpose. 

"We’re not against mass transit -- we think it’s beneficial -- but we need to look at our requirements and our limitations and say, ‘OK, we need something that works for us.’”

“We just wanted to make sure that they understood that we need to move forward,” Kriseman responded on Thursday afternoon. “As a city, I made it clear that while we weren’t happy about some of the changes, we were willing to concede some of the things that they had some concerns about in order to move the project forward, but it doesn’t seem to have been enough.”

“It’s easy to be parochial, it’s a lot harder to be regional and it’s time that we are regional and St. Pete Beach needs to be a partner with everyone else,” added Kriseman. “There is some risk they took in taking the action they did because these are state roads, this project could go forward and if it does go forward it’s very possible that some of the compromises that potentially they could have received may go away.”

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