Sunrunner stops free service a month early to deter local riders without a home

bus rapid transit BRT St. Petersburg, Florida
SunRunner. Via PSTA Twitter.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority voted today to charge a full fare of $2.25 for the SunRunner bus route. Their board met Wednseday to hear from residents and consider whether to charge for a bus line that has offered free rides to everyone for nearly a year.

Everyone likes to head to the beach for the summer to cool off, especially with hotter than normal temperatures. But St. Pete Beach residents are complaining about having to deal with some of the issues surrounding individuals experiencing houselessness as the bus route going from the City of St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach is offering free rides for all people. Liana Nuñez is on the board of a local condominium and said residents have had some concerns.

“…urination, defecation, people sleeping passed out in our laundry rooms by our pool areas on our chaise lounges. We have 282 homeowners, it’s our responsibility to protect them and to try and mitigate these types of liabilities.”

And Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri insisted that the free bus route has been facilitating an uptick in theft near the bus stops.

“The 101 thefts are retail thefts. And they’re basically all from the Publix and the 711. So it goes back to this population that’s out there. And it didn’t start until the word got out that they could for free hop on the Sun runner to go out there. It is against the law in St. Pete Beach to sleep on the beach.”

The Transit Board was considering the notion of making a $0.50 cashless fare on the route to the beach, which St. Pete Beach City Commissioner Chris Marone said at an Aug. 8 meeting. Was part of an effort to quote, “make their lives miserable.” Unquote- Rather than arresting the unhoused riders. Reverend Andy Oliver is with Allandale Methodist Church, and called the idea a potential legal issue.

“Imagine if we were here creating discriminatory policies targeting all police based on the behavior of your worst officers. I think you refer to them as bad apples. You’d be irate.”

He cited court cases that explain why this could create an ethical concern.

“We look back at Jim Crow policies and other policies that unconstitutionally discriminate against a specific class of people. And that’s what this is designed to do. And we wonder what kind of people would pass such ugly discrimination. We’re about to find out with your vote, who those people are today.”

According to Dr. Monica Alesnick of the Homeless Leadership Alliance said there are 2,144 unhoused individuals on any given night, and 3,768 school children as reported by the Pinellas County School system. With so many people impacted by lack of housing, Chairperson Gina Driscoll argued against doing away with free rides before November 1st.

“Because I don’t think we need to take a sledgehammer to something that could be fixed with a scalpel. And if we really are concerned about the homeless about those who are struggling with mental illness, and those who just simply have bad intentions. That is that is where we need to be focusing our energy and our resources.”

The board voted on an amended motion by Comissioner René Flowers to charge a full fare instead of the $0.50 option. Rides will now cost $2.25 as of October 1st, and will plan to bring stakeholders from the City Administrator and the Sheriff’s office to search for solutions to addressing houslessness at the next transit board meeting. Council member Gina Driscoll and citizen board member Vince Cocks were the only dissenting votes with Commissioner Jamie Robinson absent.

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