Despite a modest flow of emails urging otherwise, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will likely opt to replace its fleet’s oldest diesel buses with new diesel buses.
That’s if the PSTA’s board of directors follow its finance committee recommendations. Last week, the committee voted 4-1 for recommending the purchase of nine new Gillig diesel buses, rather than electric or hybrid-electric buses.
The 15-member PSTA Board, whose members have the final say, will hold a vote at 9 a.m. Wednesday to determine which route they want to go with the purchase.
And while it’s still possible for the Board to opt for more Gillig diesel-electric hybrid buses, as it has in the past, the vote will almost certainly not take into consideration the purchase of nine new completely electric buses, as is the desire of the many Pinellas residents who weighed in via email.
“Don’t take a step backward from your sustainability policy by buying new diesel buses, or more diesel hybrids that still pollute and cost too much,” wrote Willy Culkar, a Pinellas Realtor.
“With No Emissions,” wrote George Root, another county resident, “we benefit from the reduced adverse health effects which derive from gas, diesel – and yes, even diesel hybrid [busses], which are still an emissions source.”
“This is an important decision and I encourage you to make the earth-friendly choice!” wrote Nancy Frainetti, of Electric Marina.
There were multiple emails of the same type sent to each of the four Pinellas County Commission members also on the PSTA Board: Ken Welch, Dave Eggers, Pat Gerard and Janet Long.
Ashlie Handy, media liaison for the PSTA, weighed in on the issue: “We really support the idea of one day having all-electric buses cruising around the county,” wrote Handy in an email to SaintPetersBlog. “But right now we have a responsibility to the public to get cleaner, more environmentally friendly buses on the road by next year.”
An all-electric bus order made now, according to Handy, would take about three years to receive and implement into the PSTA system. That would mean three more years of running 14-year old buses on Pinellas County roads.
The buses the PSTA wants off the road are nine 2001 diesel Gillig buses. Those 14-year-old buses are costing the PSTA about $20,000 per bus, per year in maintenance costs and, according to Handy, are the most polluting buses in the PSTA fleet.
There’s some good news for electric bus enthusiasts too. Part of the PSTA finance committee’s recommendation to the board includes submitting a No-Lo federal grant application, which, if received, will assist in bringing an all-electric bus fleet to Pinellas County.
“We have in no way given up on all-electric buses,” Handy said. “We really hope we get this No-Lo grant to make it happen.”
As things stand now, Pinellas County’s public bus fleet is valued at over $37 million. Exactly $4.5 million is set aside for the upcoming bus-replacement purchase, no matter the type of bus purchased.