Three years ago, the Tampa Bay Times reported that “studies of the [Sunrunner] route connecting downtown St. Petersburg with the beaches estimate it would have 4,500 daily rides.” On June 2nd this year, PSTA told St. Pete City council that “the projected ridership is 4,000 riders per day.”
But actual ridership has fallen far below those projections. This week, PSTA claimed that 63,000 people rode the Sunrunner in the first month of operation. This means 2,100 riders per day on average (based on a 30-day month). In other words, ridership is only about half of PSTA’s projection five months ago.
Despite the dismal ridership, PSTA’s PR manager Stephanie Rank told Fox 13 News that PSTA “couldn’t be happier with our numbers so far.” In addition, Rank simultaneously told Fox 13 that the ridership was 63,000 in the first month and 4,000 per day, an impossibility unless she is using a calendar with a 16-day month in it.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented amount of people taking the SunRunner,” Rank said. Given that it was the first month, even one rider all month would’ve have been “unprecedented.”
What’s worse, the ridership appears to be falling off fast, despite fare-fee rides through April and various gimmicks to boost ridership. On Wednesday December 7th, PSTA staff will report to the PSTA board 29,180 riders during the first 11 days of operation, meaning that there were 33,820 riders during the remaining 19 days. That’s an average of only 1,750 per day, or 56% below PSTA’s own projection just five months ago.
One of PSTA’s gimmicks to get riders to use the Sunrunner was to give the first 500 riders free “Gold Cards” and call those riders “Sunrunner VIP:s.” The “gold cards” provide sizeable discounts at local businesses.
Notably, the only business names that are displayed in images on PSTA’s gold card page are St. Pete Brewing, The Arcade and Green Bench. All three are breweries, thus giving the impression that PSTA favors drinking establishments over other businesses.
Will ridership drop further once the novelty wears off, or word gets out about the loud and mentally ill passengers on the Sunrunner? Time will tell. But as we will show in a future article, ridership claims by PSTA are based on no data whatsoever.
In 2014, the US DHS (Department of Homeland Security) ordered PSTA to return $354,000 in grant money after PSTA improperly spent it. The headline of the 2019 Times Bay Times article we linked to at the beginning of this article is “PSTA misled Feds about bus rapid transit project.” In that case, PSTA had misled the US FTA (Federal Transit Administration).
It appears that PSTA is once again engaging in deception, this time of Pinellas County taxpayers.
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