34,000 students to benefit from SPC deal with PSTA

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Eritha Cainion is a Saint Petersburg College Collegiate High School student. She doesn’t have a car.

Last year that was a bit of a problem for Cainion, who had to rely on public transportation to get to and from classes.

This year her worries are over.

SPC students and faculty can now ride Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses for free anytime just by showing their student or faculty IDs.

“This lifts the burden of not having vehicular access off the backs of SPC students,” said Cainion.

SPC entered into a $75,000 contract with PSTA that began this week. The deal offers unlimited rides for students and SPC employees.

PSTA has been trying to broker this deal with SPC since at least 2008 and the school has been trying to figure out ways to offer better transportation options to students.

The deal could alleviate parking issues at the school’s main St. Petersburg Campus and boost attendance and enrollment in the school. It could also be a major savings for students struggling to pay their way through school.

“It’s a way that folks can save up to $9,000 a year by not having to operate a car,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller during a press conference at SPC today.

There are more than 30,000 students enrolled in SPC who could benefit.

“We have already seen very huge increases in the ridership already,” Miller said

The deal comes at a key time for PSTA as the agency is rooting for a transit referendum that would pump an additional $100 million into its budget.

The Greenlight Pinellas Plan would increase sales tax from 7% to 8% and replace the agency’s current funding mechanism that comes from property taxes. The issue is up for a vote in November.

If approved, Greenlight Pinellas would expand bus service by adding more frequent stops, extended running hours and more routes.

“One of the main issues is the service is limited and sometimes there’s quite a bit of a walk or sometimes the buses just don’t run at the same times as the classes run,” Miller said.

The plan would also fund bus rapid transit, which could cut down on commute times for students as well as passenger rail.

The prospect of improved transportation options in the county is one reason the SPC deal finally went through.

“For some of our students, this ticket will mean the difference between coming to college and not coming to college,” SPC provost Dr. Karen Kauffman White said.

Some improvements to the bus system have already been made, including a few new routes like the Central Avenue beach trolley. And the buses themselves have been getting some upgrades. As PSTA board member and St. Pete City Councilman Wengay Newton boasted, they now have WiFi.

“As you commute back and forth from school or work, if it takes you an hour each way, that’s two hours you’re never ever going to get back. You might as well enjoy it.”

Or, of course, do homework.

PSTA just signed a similar agreement with the city of St. Petersburg providing free rides to any city employee. That deal for 3,500 employees started August 1.

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 [email protected]