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Reaction to downtown bus changes is hit or miss

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s been a few days since buses ditched Williams Park and dispersed along stops throughout downtown as part of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s swap from a hub to a grid system. As expected, there is some confusion among regular riders.

To combat problems with riders not knowing where to catch the bus, PSTA employees are spreading out throughout downtown to reach riders and let them know how to catch their routes now that stops aren’t congregating at Williams Park.

Teams are dispersed along some downtown intersections as well as the downtown Publix. Teams had been wandering Williams Park handing out booklets showing the new stops for two weeks prior to Sunday’s change.

“For some it’s a little too much info all at once,” said Juan Luvian, PSTA’s marketing and sales coordinator. “Once they come to us they leave happy.

Luvian said the large number of changes overwhelming riders is the most common complaint he hears from riders. PSTA created a pamphlet with maps showing each route that came in and out of Williams Park next to another map showing where the new routes run.

The book was meant as a tool for riders to help them transition, but many had a hard time understanding that too. During a recent trip to Williams Park to help riders, CEO Brad Miller compared it to a social experiment in which the overwhelming takeaway was that their simple book wasn’t so simple.

So helping riders understand it has been PSTA’s top priority in downtown for the past few weeks.

Despite some confusion though, Luvian said a lot of riders are happy with the changes.

“A lot of people are happy when they realize they don’t have to go to another stop to get a connection,” Luvian said.

And others are happy there are more stops in more places. The previous hub system had almost all routes coming and leaving downtown culminating at Williams Park. Now stops are spread throughout the area giving easier access to Beach Drive and businesses.

Wednesday is the last day PSTA employees will be helping riders navigate the new system. But Luvian said the agency will evaluate comments and reaction to the new system and re-visit plans if necessary.

In the meantime, Luvian recommends riders plan their trip before they head out. Routes can be planned on PSTA’s website.

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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