St. Petersburg gets battery-powered eLooper bus for downtown St. Petersburg

PSTA expects to have six such battery-powered buses in its fleet by the end of 2020.

click to enlarge PSTA's battery-powered eLooper, which will circle downtown St. Petersburg, begins service Sunday, October 7. - vis PSTA
vis PSTA
PSTA's battery-powered eLooper, which will circle downtown St. Petersburg, begins service Sunday, October 7.

PSTA and the City of St. Petersburg have unveiled an electric bus, and free service on the battery-powered bus service starts Sunday, October 7. 

“This is a step towards a greener, cleaner future for Pinellas County,” PSTA's CEO, Brad Miller, commented in a press release. “We’ve led the charge as an innovator and a leader in the transit industry, and now we’ve accomplished another milestone by launching the first zero-emission, all-electric bus service in St. Petersburg.”

Called the "eLooper," the bus will make 20 stops at bars and restaurants in the downtown St. Petersburg area. Its southernmost stop is Johns Hopkins All Childrens Hospital at 5th Street South and 6th Avenue South; it's northernmost stop is The Vinoy Hotel at 5th Avenue and Bayshore Drive NE. It will go as far east as the water by the St. Petersburg Pier and as far west as 5th Street North.

PSTA used funds from its capital budget — capital monies get spent on items that are one-time expenses, or items not often purchased, like a new sewer system or city hall building — to buy two electric buses. The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners allocated some of its BP money — $600,000 of it — for an en-route charging station in downtown St. Petersburg. Using another $2 million from the Federal Transit Administration, PSTA plans to purchase two buses, to arrive in 2019, and two more, scheduled to arrive in 2020, according to a press release from the agency. That's six buses total.

When the Cross Bay Ferry resumes service next month (service will run through April 2019), the eLooper will have a stop near the Museum of Fine Arts that will allow passengers to connect directly to the ferry. 

The eLooper runs every 15 minutes, and maintains service later than standard PSTA buses — Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri., 7 a.m.-Midnight; Sat., 8 a.m.-Midnight; and Sun., 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

St. Petersburg, St. Pete Partnership, Florida Department of Transportation and PSTA all share the cost of the eLooper and service, with St. Petersburg kicking in almost $360,000 per year for the service (most cities in Pinellas contribute to PSTA financially). Over the next two fiscal years, PSTA anticipates more than $10 million in funding per year from the FTA for New Start programs like this. (On page 88 of the proposed 2019 budget, you'll see FTA total funding actually totals more than $32 million, and, on page 89, that for the next two years, PSTA expects $2 million per year from the City of St. Petersburg.)

We feel obligated to point out that while there's a fair amount of celebrating the greenness of the eLooper and yes, it has zero emissions, it's still powered by fossil fuels. The bus runs on batteries, powered by a charging station that connects to our city's power grid. This is a tremendous step in the right direction, however, and CL eagerly awaits the day when alternative fuel sources are available to mass transit agencies on a cost-effective basis. 

PSTA receives funding from federal and state grants (22%), passenger fares (15%), advertising and other revenue (2%), and directly from property taxes (61%). Homeowners, if you look on your property tax bill, you'll see that tax at .75 mils, or 75 cents for every thousand dollars of your home's taxable value (for example, a home worth $100,000 would pay $75 a year to fund PSTA).

Now, get out there and ride that bus.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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