Recently I had the good fortune of finally being able to go and check out what our cohorts at PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) are up to in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Largo. Since I became an operator (not driver Zach!) I’ve wanted to do this, but I never really had anyone who was interested in transit as I am to join me. In these last few months a friend of mine, Zachary Ziegler came to visit me in Tampa. So I decided that we should both make this journey, and we finally did.
The day started at HART‘s Marion Transit Center in Tampa. We boarded the PSTA 100x to begin our journey. Upon arriving in St. Pete we were prepared to disembark and continue our journey, but much to our delight the operator offered to allow us to ride back on his deadhead and we could see PSTA’s main operations center. Neither one of us wanted to pass up on this opportunity. Once we arrived one of the first things I noticed was that their yard had several drainage grates that were blocked off by traffic cones and that the concrete was in desperate need of repair. But as we continued in I noticed construction equipment everywhere so suffice it to say, they thought the same thing I did. One of the biggest differences that I noticed about their yard compared to HART’s is that it is designed for the buses to park in lanes rather than individual slots. Other than that it appeared to be a pretty standard bus yard in my opinion.
After arriving at base we headed out front to PSTA’s administration office where we purchased Zach’s pass (as a HART operator I am afforded the privilege of riding for free). While we were there we had the opportunity to meet Cindy, PSTA’s new media official. She suggested that we hit up the trolleys while we were riding the system, so of course we did just that. After talking with Cindy and taking in the beauty of PSTA’s administration office we headed out to the 34st TC (transfer center). This TC was a pretty simple one, it was an island housing stop shelters and public restrooms and departure information. At this platform was my first introduction to PSTA’s real time arrival information. I have to say that I was quite impressed with it.
It was a VERY useful tool all day long and it really took the stress out of having to locate a schedule, decipher it and get to the stop in time for the bus to arrive. This did lead to another discovery though, I realized how much I took my HART schedule book for granted. I say this because real time arrival information doesn’t do you a whole lot of good once you are on board. What I mean by this is that if you don’t have a schedule handy you don’t really know what time your bus is going to be arriving at its destination. If you have a schedule for each and every bus you need for that day or will ever need for that matter you end up carrying around a ton of bus schedules. And bus schedules were a hard to come by for the bus you were on. PSTA definitely did keep an abundance of schedules on board their buses, but I discovered that I it was hard to get a schedule for the route that the bus was actually on. I did ask PSTA via Twitter if they had ever considered printing route books and I was informed that it was researched and it was deemed to be too costly of an investment. I hope that they reconsider this in the future.
One of the biggest pluses that I noticed while riding around was the passengers. They all had their fare ready, and if they didn’t they were very quick at finding it. It seemed that the bus users in Pinellas had their act together. I didn’t really notice an issue with people loitering around the transfer centers or the bus stops for the most part. Everyone had somewhere to go and they didn’t waste time getting on their buses. The buses themselves were clean, I didn’t notice trash on board units and the TCs were relatively clean. It seems that PSTA passengers have their act together and they didn’t give the drivers any issues and it was rather uneventful, I like that.
While riding around I did notice that stop amenities seemed to be lacking, I mostly saw a bus stop sign and a concrete pad and that was it. On occassion we did see some Jaycee benches but not quite as many that you see in Hillsborough. Come to think about it I only ever saw Jaycee benches at the bus stops and nowhere else. If you’ve ever driven around Hillsborough County you know that this is not the case, Jaycee benches are EVERYWHERE and they often get confused for bus stops (I touched on this issue in Don’t Miss The Bus). Now this doesn’t mean that there are no bus stop benches and shelters. Almost every shelter that I saw in Pinellas was enclosed on at least 3 sides enough to protect passengers from rain and wind sufficiently. In fact I really liked the shelter design they went with, they are better than some of the ones that HART uses (they would barely protect a bald head from the sun). So what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality.
On the same topic of stop quality I do need to touch on the Grand Central Transfer Center. Its a nice looking, aesthetically pleasing transfer center. There is plenty of greenery, its open but its covered enough to keep you out of the elements and I openness. But, functionally it needs help DESPERATELY. The layout is circular which is just fine, it can work. But in the case of Grand Central it is severally flawed. In order for the operator to pull out of their bay they have to almost pull straight forward in order to turn with enough clearance along the curbside. In order to drive along the perimeter of the transfer center the bus has to be completely straight to clear any structure or bus for the matter. Since you are going to have multiple buses inside of Grand Central all at once it makes it very hard to pull away from your bay. In our specific situation the operator had to reverse his unit in order to have enough clearance in front of him to pull out unobstructed.
But as luck would have it another unit was attempting to come around to pull into their bay and the unit in front of both of us was in the process of pulling out as well. Needless to say we didn’t go anywhere for a minute. From an operators perspective this would drive me nuts every time I would have to pull in and out of this transfer center. Grand Centrals pleasant view hides its hideous design flaw. Zach also touched on this area in his own post, its definitely worth checking out, Transit Tourism — St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Fl
Now being a bus operator I was looking at certain things from a slightly different perspective to my counter part. One thing I noticed as soon as we arrived at the 34 st Transfer Point there was a 2001 Gillig Advantagestaging. I immediately noticed that the exterior mirrors on this unit were 100% manually operated. My first thought was how annoying this would be to me, to have to continuously get out of my seat and adjust my mirrors when I took over this bus. I hoped that this was an anomaly in the fleet but alas it was common for units from that year. I also took a look at the driver’s area and discovered that the fan placement was the same as ours. Imagine if you will, you are sitting in your car and A/C fans are no longer in front of you where you assume they would be and they are now diagonally above you over your shoulder.
This is exactly how the driver A/C vents were designed in these units, both at HART and at PSTA. The PSTA units all had the old livery, so that gives me hope that these units won’t be around that much longer, for the operators sake that is. One of the coolest, and smallest, things that I noticed fleet wide was the placement of the kneel switch on their units. Now I know you are thinking, “Why is something as small as a switch such a huge thing?” Well, on the HART buses they are all on the dash in front of the operator, requiring us to lean forward every time we lower/raise the bus. On the PSTA units they are all on the left side switch panel in easy reach of your left hand, no leaning required! This is something that I hope HART will do in the future. This switch is used almost as often as the hazard light switch (that’s pretty common if you didn’t catch it).
All in all I really enjoyed my visit to Pinellas and having the opportunity to ride the PSTA system. I plan on returning in the not so distant future and riding again since I was not able to see the entire system. I hope you enjoyed this post and as always I really appreciate feedback and comments. Don’t forget to check out my buddy Zach’s post as well and follow him on Twitterfor fun transit facts/stories as well! Be sure to check out my Flickr page for all of the other pictures from this journey! PSTA Set
- Transit Tourism — St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Fl (transitzac.wordpress.com)
- Bus Riders Experiment (brandyknott.wordpress.com)