Students and teachers at Pinellas Public School will soon ride the PSTA buses for free
It’s about to get easier and cheaper for thousands of Pinellas County students, teachers, and staff to take the bus.
Starting in January, all Pinellas County School District students, teachers and staff will be able to ride all Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses free of charge. And when the 2022-2023 school year begins next August, some students at three Pinellas high schools will be assigned to PSTA buses rather than yellow school buses.
The PSTA board approved the new programs and the Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously in favor on Tuesday. They reflect the partnerships between public bus systems and local school districts in many other cities, and they will provide many benefits immediately and beyond.
From January 1, students, teachers and staff in Pinellas County can take PSTA buses for free by simply showing their school ID card to the bus driver. They can ride for free seven days a week, and they can ride anywhere, anytime. They can take the bus to jobs, sporting events, or extracurricular activities. Or at the cinema, shopping malls or the beaches. They can take the 100X or 300X routes. They can ride anywhere in the county for any reason. Free.
In the short term, the free rides should come in handy for families looking for an inexpensive way to get around Pinellas without depending on a car. We are convinced that this will spread. The number of PSTA riders increased when we offered free rides to students, faculty and staff at St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.
In the long run, there should be even more benefits for the whole community. Young people who try public transit now will be more likely to use it later as they age and enter the workforce. More passengers will help PSTA advocate for a more robust transit system with shorter wait times between buses and with more routes. And a stronger public transport system will help reduce the carbon footprint, reduce traffic, and make Pinellas even more attractive to new residents and businesses.
The other element of this initiative is to experiment by assigning some high school students to travel to school by PSTA buses instead of the yellow buses operated by the school district. It will begin next August with students from Dunedin High School, Largo High School and Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg living close to existing PSTA routes. The schedule of some buses will be adjusted to better match the start and end times of school. PSTA bus drivers on these routes will receive training from the school district. This partnership is particularly important now, as it will help address the pandemic-induced shortage of school bus drivers.
Using public buses instead of school buses to bring children to and from school is common practice in many cities. If the experiment is successful, we can extend it to other high schools in the years to come.
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Free PSTA bus rides now will pay big dividends down the road for the whole community.
Brad Miller is the Managing Director of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.