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PSTA’s 4th electric bus demo shows commitment to clean transit

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is pushing hard for all-electric buses. For the fourth time, the agency held an electric bus demonstration at its headquarters.

“If they keep building them, we will keep bringing them here,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller. “Any one of the electric buses that we have demonstrated here at PSTA could have a place somewhere in our system.”

The buses run clean with zero emissions and run quiet. They’re equipped with all the same amenities as diesel or hybrid buses and, all together, look basically the same.

The demo, which attracted support from the Sierra Club and newly elected City Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Brown, comes as the county’s transit agency awaits word on whether or not it will receive a “LoNo” grand from the federal government to pay for nine electric buses.

The grant would also pay for charging stations to support running the buses on two of the county’s smaller routes. Those include Route 32, which serves as the downtown St. Pete circular and Route 11 running from Ulmerton Road south to Greater Pinellas Point.

The downtown loop connects places like Tropicana Field, Bayfront Medical Center, USF St. Petersburg, and the Sunshine Senior Center. Route 11 can connect riders to places such as PTEC, the Gateway business district where corporate giants Home Shopping Network and Raymond James are located and some of the transit challenged neighborhoods of South St. Pete.

Five of the buses would be “fast charge” meaning the buses would stop for just a couple of minutes on every “loop” through downtown St. Pete to charge. The other four buses are extended-range buses. They would be used for the longer Route 11 and would charge every night with occasional quick charges throughout the day at the PSTA main station where the route begins and ends.

The entire project would cost $9.525 million. The federal grant, if awarded, would cover 51 percent of that cost. PSTA would out of pocket $4.65 million. To put that into perspective, it would cost PSTA $4.5 million to purchase nine diesel buses so the federal grant basically pays for an upgrade to all-electric.

 The agency will find out whether or not it will get the grant this year. It applied for the money in November.

“We need to keep looking for solutions to our transportation needs,” Miller said.

The Sierra Club’s Phil Compton issued a call on Facebook for supporters of all-electric buses to attend PSTA’s board meeting Wednesday morning to express support.

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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