City funding of $175,000 annually is set to bridge a gap that had previously required Transportation Disadvantaged participants to pay a nominal monthly fee.
Beginning next month, low-income residents of St. Petersburg who lack access to personal vehicles will enjoy free public transit services throughout Pinellas County.
In a unanimous decision last week, the St. Petersburg City Council approved a $175,000 allocation for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. This financial support will bolster the Transit Authority’s Transportation Disadvantaged program, offering reduced-cost transportation options for residents who rely on these services to reach work, medical appointments, and other essential destinations. Eligibility is open to households with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, equivalent to approximately $29,000 annually for an individual or $60,000 for a family of four.
The program has historically relied heavily on state funding, receiving over $4 million from the state of Florida last year, according to Evan Mory, St. Petersburg’s transportation and parking manager, who briefed council members on the matter last week. However, this state funding structure still imposed costs on program participants, who were required to pay $11 for an unlimited 31-day pass or $5 for unlimited rides on 10 nonconsecutive days. The newly allocated city funding will cover these expenses for St. Petersburg residents utilizing the program.
“The cost, while it’s low, is still a barrier, so we’d like to bring down that barrier,” Mory said.
Addressing this gap for all program participants in St. Petersburg would require approximately $136,000, as estimated by Mory. Nevertheless, the city aims to stimulate greater participation by making the program entirely free. The allocated funding will be sustained until late 2025, with the possibility for the city to extend it for an additional two years. During this period, the city’s annual contribution will remain at $175,000, although the City Council retains the authority to vote on potential funding increases.
During its recent budget season, the City Council deliberated not only on this particular transit subsidy but also contemplated offering support to maintain the SunRunner, the high-speed bus service linking downtown with St. Pete Beach, as a free service for an additional year. However, this proposal was abandoned following objections from St. Pete Beach officials and residents who voiced concerns about homeless riders. Consequently, the transit authority decided to implement fares for the route earlier than originally planned, starting this month.
The city’s funding for the Transportation Disadvantaged program will become effective on November 1. Individuals interested in applying for the program can obtain additional information at psta.net/programs. The application process entails providing proof of income, and only residents of St. Petersburg are eligible for free participation. Social service organizations have the capacity to endorse homeless residents who lack a fixed address for program eligibility.