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Activists take crusade for electric buses to Pinellas County commissioners

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Members of the board that oversees public transportation in Pinellas agreed last week to buy two electric buses for a pilot program, if the county commission decides to purchase a charging station for the vehicles.

Now activists who once targeted the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority have set their sights on Pinellas County commissioners. The immediate goal: Convince commissioners to agree to spend about $590,000 of the $7.1 million it received from the BP oil spill settlement for the charging station. The ultimate goal: an all-electric PSTA fleet.

“We believe there is no more appropriate use of the funds than to help the county’s transit system move to an era of no more oil,” said Phil Compton, a senior organizing representative for the Sierra Club Florida’s Healthy Air Campaign.

The Sierra Club Florida has sent out an email asking members and others to go to the BP survey on Pinellas County’s website and ask for funding for electric bus charging infrastructure.

It’s not just the Sierra Club that’s pushing for electric buses and a charging station. The club is one of 40 members of the Tampa Bay Zero Emission Coalition. All 40 members are pushing the issue. Among the members are eco-groups like the Sierra Club, individuals, businesses, business and neighborhood districts, churches, the University of South Florida, restaurants and a youth sports group.

Compton said it’s not surprising that so many would join the cause.

“The only question,” he said, “is, ‘Why wouldn’t you do this?’ … We’re protecting our future.”

The advantages, coalition members said, of electric buses are many: no gasoline, no dirty oil changes, no noisy internal combustion engine, no dirty exhaust. And, the electric buses are cheaper in the long run.

Environmental activists have long campaigned for the PSTA to give electric buses a try. Last week, they were victorious when PSTA board members voted 12-2 to buy five hybrid buses in the coming fiscal year. If the county will pay the one-time fee for the charging station, the board agreed to buy three hybrids and two electrics. The two electrics would be used for a pilot program in St. Petersburg. If successful, the pilot could be expanded to include the entire 200-bus PSTA fleet eventually.

The proposal will likely have some support on the County Commission. Ken Welch, who serves on the PSTA board, has said he would advocate for the expenditure. Janet Long and Pat Gerard, who also serve on PSTA, voted for the hybrid-electric proposal. Dave Eggers voted against it. And it’s unclear what other projects might come before the commissioners during a July 12 workshop set aside to discuss how to spend BP funds.

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