The SunRunner bus has been providing a free service for nearly a year, connecting passengers in downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach. But starting October 1st, a fare will be required after beach residents complained about their encounters with the local houseless population. I rode the SunRunner to find out what passengers have to say about the change.
On a hot summer Saturday, the ice cold AC blasting onboard the bus is a welcome break from the heat, and the onboard ports are also chance for people to recharge devices. William Mobberly is a St. Pete native and was about to board the SunRunner.
“They’re going to try, it’s not going to work, people…because I was homeless a little bit for a little while, and nothing’s gonna stop you from getting money to ride a bus. So it’s not really… it may stop a few people but it’s not going to stop it. The people on the beach who are against it: I doubt any of them have struggled or been poor. And I just say to the people of the city, listen to the actual people.”
A man named Dan, works on the beach, and did not want to provide his last name. He said the decision to add a fare will make life harder for those trying to get on their feet.
“I know that when I first started my job, I’m out here on the beach. I was homeless and I needed the sun runner. So I think there’s a lot of guys coming out this way trying to find jobs, not just to just you know, panhandler anything. So I haven’t seen any of it. And everybody that I know of has been trying to get employment. So I don’t like it. I think that they should keep it free. Kindly keep it free yet. I mean, we’re all trying to get jobs. I know that I was able to get a job and get off the street. And there’s plenty of others that are trying to do the same thing.”
Rick MacNeil is currently staying in a shelter, and said the full fare will make life more difficult.
“That’s the last thing people need to be worried about as far as how to get from point A to point B, because they may not have the necessary finances to do what they need to do. So hopefully, the politicians will take that in consideration and look out for the little people.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri suggested last month that charging $2.25 for the bus would be the only way to deter things like people bathing naked in beachfront showers or loitering at condos. Sheriff Gualtieri claimed that dealing with houseless cost his department an extra $10,000 per week.
“In the Dolphin Village shopping center, which is right across from the county park, which is right across from the main sun runner drop off, our calls for service in that shopping center are up 535%
When I went to Dolphin Plaza for several hours on a Saturday, there was not one panhandler in sight. St. Pete Beach City Commissioner Chris Marone quoted Gualtieri, who suggested making their lives miserable.
“So we have to basically make their lives miserable, which is ‘what are you doing here, sir? Where are you going?'”
Rick MacNeil called that comment heartless and self-centered.
“…and narcissistic to a certain degree, because I just feel as though that he has no idea on what it’s like to struggle are to have to watch your pennies so to speak. So I think he’s more so coming from a direction of someone that hasn’t never really struggled or maybe well off.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch had proposed funds to keep the SunRunner free in the City’s budget. Despite that, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority voted last month start charging a full bus fare of $2.25 on the SunRunner on October 1st, a month ahead of the originally scheduled date.