Category Archives: Customer Service

Bus Driver Appreciation Day is Tuesday, March 18th!

2013 Driver of the Year Julio Palmer

2013 Driver of the Year Julio Palmer

As you’re out and about on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, be sure to give a wave and gesture of thanks to your local transit operators as part of the fifth annual international Transit Driver Appreciation Day. The special day was started by a group of transit riders in Seattle back in 2009. It was a way for them to acknowledge the great job that their transit operators do along with all of the benefits that they provide for the community. Organizers say the day is a great way to honor the many hard-working men and women who keep our economy and communities moving every day.

Leaders for the Transit Driver Appreciation Day like to point out that just because a job looks easy, doesn’t mean it actually is:  Throughout their day, transit drivers manage to keep a schedule, check fares, give directions, announce stops, remember stop requests and more – all while safely maneuvering an extra-large vehicle through unpredictable traffic, adverse weather conditions and some really tight spaces.  The fact is, transit drivers don’t have an easy job, they just make it look that way.

If you’d like to hop aboard and thank one of Pinellas County’s hard working and talented Bus Operators, as well as relaxing while they chauffeur you through traffic, just visit PSTA’s award winning website at: www.psta.net to plan a trip – or call the PSTA InfoLine for help at (727) 540-1900.  Then you can then use PSTA’s new Real Time Bus Information system to find out exactly when your next bus is due at your stop.

To keep up with PSTA’s plans for the future of transportation in Pinellas County, visit www.greenlightpinellas.org and learn about the Greenlight Pinellas Plan.

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Story from PSTA Rider Devin Henderson

We love hearing from our riders about how public transit makes a real difference in their day-to-day lives. Recently we had the opportunity to work with a local college student named Devin Henderson to provide travel training and demonstrate the Real Time Bus Information system. Here’s the really nice letter that we received from him which thanked us for spending so much time with him:

(Note about the email: James Bradford is PSTA’s Chief Operations Officer; Sue is Sue Lanham, PSTA’s Manager of Schedules; Devin’s email address has been removed to protect his privacy; and this is an excerpt from the email received. Click on the image to enlarge.)

henderson emailThanks for riding Devin, and thank you for supporting public transit in Pinellas County!

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Press Release: PSTA Hosts Guide Dog Training

Although modern technology has made riding transit easier and more convenient than ever, taking that first ride can still be intimidating for those who have lost their sight. That’s why Southeastern Guide Dogs and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are partnering to make that experience even easier – by training guide dogs to comfortably and confidently lead their companions when riding transit. southeastern guide dogs logo

On Saturday, January 18, 2014, seven adorable and exceptionally well behaved guide dogs in training accompanied their handlers on a two hour exercise aboard a PSTA bus. The puppies ranged in age from six months to a year and even though they faced a plethora of new sights, sounds, smells and vibrations, they took the entire exercise in stride. The training involved driving the bus along local streets and stopping at various locations to let the training teams board and alight so the puppies could get used to the various types of bus stops found throughout Pinellas County.

guide dogs 1 “What we try to do is to take them to different places and give them different experiences, so that when they are a working dog, they won’t be upset or distracted and are better able to do their job,” says Southeastern Guide Dogs Area Coordinator John Bauer. “It’s hard work, but when you get to see your dog finally matched with a blind person, it’s immensely gratifying and wonderful to see that dog actually guiding someone and helping them get where they need to go.”  Officials say that many guide dogs will be riding transit every day once in service and this kind of training, which simply can’t be simulated in a classroom, is invaluable.

guide dogs 2Southeastern Guide Dogs is an organization that trains dogs to help people with visual impairments so that it’s easier for them to live independent, vibrant and joyous lives. Through programs such as Paws for Independence™, Paws for Patriots™, and Gifted Canines™ they have more than 400 active guide dog teams across the country. PSTA leaders say that being able to support Southeastern Guide Dogs and programs like Paws for Patriots is a great way to give back to the community and support our heroes who have given so much for our country.

For more about Paws for Patriots or other Southeastern Guide Dogs programs, including how to volunteer or donate, visit:  www.guidedogs.org.

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Press Release: Pinellas CVS/Pharmacy Stores Now Sell PSTA Bus Passes

Who: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and CVS/Pharmacy
What: Announce a new partnership where CVS/Pharmacy stores will now sell PSTA GO Cards
When: August 5, 2013
Where:  At 48 CVS/Pharmacy locations throughout Pinellas County
Why:  To make it easier for residents and tourists to purchase bus passes and get to and from area CVS/Pharmacy locations

With the shake of a hand and a smile, leaders from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and CVS/Pharmacy nearly doubled the number of locations where you can purchase bus passes today. Those passes, called GO Cards, are now available for purchase at 48 CVS/Pharmacy locations throughout Pinellas County. “This is an exciting opportunity for the community as it will make buying GO Cards easier than ever,” said PSTA Board Chair and St. Petersburg City Councilman, Jeff Danner. “PSTA ridership is at an all-time record high and this new partnership will make it much easier to meet the growing demand for GO Card outlets.”

Danner joined officials from CVS/Pharmacy at their store at 4th Street and 9th Avenue North in St. Petersburg to celebrate the new partnership. On hand were CVS/Pharmacy District Sales Manager Brian Bache, Store Manager Scott Greer, and Assistant Manager Joe Sferrazza.

Pinellas CVS/Pharmacy locations now carry all PSTA passes except for Passports, Haul Passes and the 20 Ride Premium GO Cards, which can be purchased online at www.PSTA.net.

To plan a trip or learn more about riding PSTA, just visit the agency’s award-winning website at: www.PSTA.net. Patrons are also encouraged to use PSTA’s new Real Time Bus Information system to find out exactly when the next bus will arrive at their stop. Simply logon to www.RidePSTA.net or call the PSTA InfoLine at (727) 540-1900.

Riders can also keep up with the agency’s plans for the future of transportation in Pinellas County and participate in the community conversation helping to shape those plans at www.GreenlightPinellas.org.

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Press Release: PSTA Announces New Partnership with Amscot!

For immediate release: February 19, 2012

Who: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and Amscot Financial
What: Announce new partnership for selling PSTA GO Cards
When: February 19, 2013
Where: All Pinellas Amscot locations
Why:  To make it easier for the record number of PSTA bus riders to purchase PSTA GO Cards

Jeff Danner and Deveron GibbonsPinellas County transit riders can now enjoy the convenience of purchasing PSTA GO Cards at all 28 Pinellas Amscot locations. The announcement was made today by Jeff Danner, PSTA Board Chairman and St. Petersburg City Councilmember, and Deveron Gibbons, Amscot’s Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development. The two celebrated the new partnership with a ceremonial sale of a PSTA GO Card at the Amscot Financial location at 3266 Central Ave, which is next door to PSTA’s Grand Central Station.

“PSTA provided more than 14 million rides last year and ridership this year is already up another 9%. Those increases have created a higher demand for ticket outlet locations,” says Danner. “This new partnership will help meet that demand and make it much more convenient for riders to get GO Cards and use PSTA.”

PSTA currently has 25 ticket outlets throughout Pinellas County, which sell more than 7100 GO Cards every month. This new partnership with Amscot Financial will more than double the locations at which Pinellas residents and tourists can buy bus passes.  “We have customer comment cards in every store and we’ve been getting requests to sell PSTA GO Cards on a regular basis,” says Gibbons. “It’s important to us to be responsive to the community and honor those requests. In fact, it won’t be long before we carry PSTA passes in some of our Hillsborough and Pasco locations as well.”

Amscot staff has even programmed the computers in the Pinellas locations to automatically take employees through an online training that teaches them how to sell the bus passes. “It gets them up to speed more quickly and ensures that our customers get the fastest possible service,” adds Gibbons. A list of the Pinellas Amscot locations can be found at www.amscotfinancial.com and selection and pricing for PSTA GO Cards can be found at www.PSTA.net.

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Let’s talk trash

People make trash. And it’s a fact of life that cities, park departments, entertainment venues, and yes, public transit agencies, have to provide a place for people to put their trash and take care of disposing of that trash. That, my friends, is a costly proposition. PSTA uses a contractor to service the trash cans located at our bus stops all over Pinellas County, and we pay by the can each time they pick up. With over 800 trash cans in our system, that bill adds up pretty quickly.

PSTA Marketing Intern Chrystal Lovett gives the new BigBelly trash compactor at the 34th Street Transfer Center a try.

Well, a new money-saving solution is here: solar trash compactors. Manufactured by Big Belly Solar, Inc., the BigBelly compactors harness the power of information technology and renewable energy to help reduce some of our expensive trash pickups. Inside these state-of-the-art, solar-powered trash cans, a sensor keeps track of how full it is and automatically goes through a compaction cycle. When the can is full, after several cycles, it sends an email to our Facilities Maintenance department telling them it’s ready to be emptied. This very specific, real time notification means that our contractor or an in-house crew can pinpoint pickups and make their rounds in an extremely efficient manner. And, since they only pick up when they know it’s full, we aren’t paying them to service trash cans that don’t need it.

There is a capital outlay for the BigBelly cans; they cost about $4000 each. But, don’t worry, these fancy new trash cans will pay for themselves within the first few months in service and will save us a ton in the long run. We started the program with a trial at our PSTA 34th Street Transfer Center with four cans. Here’s how the math works out:

Traditional: Annual cost for daily servicing of four (4) “regular” cans at the Transfer Center is $9,464 (this is 4 cans X 365 pickups)

Compactors: We’re able to reduce the number of cans to two (2), and reduce pickup to two times per month. Using the same per pickup rate that we pay the current contractor, this drops our annual cost to just $312 (2 cans X 26 pickups)

So, when we put two compactors at this location, even with a purchase price of $4000 each ($8000 total), we still save over $1000 in the first year. In the second year, we save over $9000 for just this one bus transfer location! This is a huge savings!

The compactors are the same size as a regular trash can, and since they’re solar powered they need lots of direct sunlight. In addition to the cost savings, we’re seeing that the overall cleanliness of the bus stops with compactors has improved – perhaps thanks to the fact that the trash is all contained and can’t blow around. With the thought of how much money these compactors can save us in mind, we chose several promising locations for placement of the other 12 we’ve purchased so far: Gateway Mall, Park Street Terminal, 75th Ave & Gulf Way, Clearwater Mall, Grand Central, and Ulmerton Rd & 49th St (2 of the 4 corners).

We hope to purchase about 70 more over the next couple of years and can’t wait to see the savings!

Your Editor,
Cyndi Raskin-Schmitt

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Real Time is Really Here!

We introduced you to our new Real Time system a few months ago while we were in test mode and posted an update on the progress. We’re pleased to tell you that Real Time Bus Information is really here now! The system works with GPS technology and allows PSTA to pinpoint each vehicle’s exact location at all times. This means we can provide you with reliable, real-time departure information when your bus is up to 30 minutes away. There are lots of ways to access the system (some of which we’ve not told you about here in the blog before) and some important things to be aware of as you begin:

Stop#

Every bus stop in PSTA’s system has a unique bus stop number. To interact with the Real Time system, you’ll need to know that bus stop number. It’s located on a sticker at the bottom of the Real Time sign installed at your bus stop (sign installation is ongoing – we have 5000+ stops, so it’ll take us a little while to get them all put up). You can also find out your stop number by looking it up on the RidePSTA.net website (see Visit the Website section below).

*Tip*
Once you find your bus stop number, keep a list of favorite stops and their stop numbers handy.

Call the InfoLine

Using a technology called “Interactive Voice Response” or IVR, our Real Time system is able to give you automated departure times by phone. Just call the InfoLine at (727) 540-1900, press 1 for Real Time, and choose your language. You can use your phone’s keypad or just speak your choices out loud. Enter your stop number and the system will tell you when the next few buses will serve your stop during the next 30 minutes. NOTE: We are still implementing the IVR portion of Real Time Bus Info, so sometimes the system might tell you “Real Time info is not available.” Please stick with us while we iron out the wrinkles in this one piece of the larger Real Time pie!

*Tip*
After you’re in the automated system you don’t have to wait to hear prompts:
Say English or press 1
or
Say Spanish or press 2
then

Press 2 to use your phone’s keypad
or
Say “yes” or press 1 to use the speech recognition
then
Enter your bus stop number

 *Tip*
If you’re using an Android phone and the system has trouble understanding you in voice-recognition mode go into your phone’s sound settings and turn off “audible touch tones.”

Visit the Website

If you’re at a bus stop and have a Smart Phone, you can use a barcode scanner app to scan the QR code on the Real Time sign, or just type in www.RidePSTA.net from your browser. Type in your stop number and click “Find.” The system will show you when the next several buses will serve that stop. If you don’t know your stop number, choose your route, direction, and stop description in the drop down boxes. The system will show you the next several buses that will serve the stop.

*Tip*
Searching for your stop number? After you use the drop down boxes to locate the stop the system will fill in the bus stop number for you.

Automatic Email and Text Alerts

While you’re on RidePSTA.net you can also create an account and set up alerts. Each alert you set up will send you next bus information based upon the specific criteria you input. For example, if you want to see the departure times for the stop outside your work every weekday at 4:00 p.m., the system will automatically send it every day at 4:00 p.m. Just select your stop, the time you want the alert to arrive, and check if you want it to come via email and/or text message (your phone’s standard text and data charges may apply). You can go in any time to add, delete, or edit your alerts.

Text Messaging

You can also use your cell phone to get instant bus departure info. Type 41411 in the “to” box of a new text message, then put in PSTA, a space, and your stop number (like this: PSTA 3663). Send the text message and you’ll get one back almost instantly with the next buses serving that stop (your phone’s standard text and data charges may apply).

*Tip*
Reply with “R” to get a new text with updated info for that stop. Great if you use the same few stops every day!

Signs and Announcements

Many of PSTA’s busiest transfer locations have electronic signs showing upcoming departure info. You’ll find them at Grand Central Station, Williams Park, Park Street Terminal, Gateway Mall, Tyrone Square Mall, Shoppes at Park Place, and Westfield Countryside Mall. Usually they’ll tell you when the next few buses are due at the transfer center, though the signs at Grand Central are platform specific.

Once you’re on board, look for new electronic signs at the front of the bus that will announce upcoming intersections. The system will also make audio announcements with the same information.

Information the “Old Fashioned” Way

PSTA is very excited to be bringing this state-of-the-art technology to our transit system. We know it will be very helpful to our passengers and encourage you to give it a try. But, we’re also still here for you if you prefer to get your bus information the old fashioned way: our professional Customer Service Representatives will answer the InfoLine when you call and press O!

However you choose to get your information, we’re glad to have you aboard!

Your Editor,
Cyndi Raskin-Schmitt

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Road Trip…by Bus!

So, you want to go to Tampa and see the sights? You might think you’ll be relegated to slogging through commuter traffic in a car, but I’m pleased to tell you that you have options that don’t involve navigating the wilds of I-275 or finding a place to park in downtown. You guessed it, I’m talking about riding the bus.

PSTA has two commuter routes (affectionately referred to as the “X-Routes”) that cross Tampa Bay and connect with HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) buses at Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa. The Route 100X leaves from Gateway Mall, crosses the Gandy Bridge, and swings through Britton Plaza Station off Dale Mabry Hwy before reaching Marion. The Route 300X heads out of Pinellas from the PSTA Park N Ride on Ulmerton Rd (just east of Starkey Rd). It crosses the Howard Frankland Bridge into Tampa and tools around some of the downtown streets before reaching Marion. From Marion Transit Center you can hop a HART bus to reach many popular destinations in Tampa such as:

Route 5 – Adventure Island
Route 7 – Raymond James Stadium
Route 8 – Channel District, Historic Ybor City, and Brandon Mall
Route 30 –Westshore Plaza and International Mall
Route 39 –Busch Gardens
Route 45 – Lowry Park Zoo (another connection required for this one)

Before you head out, you should know that PSTA’s X-Routes across the Bay are commuter routes. This means that they only run on weekdays and most of the trips are during the morning and the afternoon rush hours. It would be a good idea to check out the bus schedules for both PSTA’s routes and HART’s so you can find your connecting times. If you want help planning your trip, try out Google Trip planner – it will give you info for both PSTA and HART. We both have great customer service available by phone, too: PSTA’s InfoLine is (727) 540-1900 and HART’s InfoLine is (813) 254-4278. And, please remember to pre-plan your return trip; you don’t want to end up stuck in Tampa because you miss the last bus back! 

You should also know that since we’re different transit systems we have different fare systems. PSTA’s X-Routes are $3 cash each way per person, and the HART local bus routes are $1.75 cash per person per bus. (By the way, we do have an intercounty buss pass called the Passport that is good on both systems. At $85 per calendar month, it’s great for commuters who use both systems a lot.) You’ll want to have exact fare because the Operators cannot make change. Click here to view our great video that shows you how to pay your fare when you board and tells you more about PSTA fares.

So, as you can see, your next adventure is just a bus away. Ready to give it a try? I encourage you to go for a road trip then tell us about it!

Your Editor,
Cyndi Raskin-Schmitt

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Tempering the high price of driving

It affects car dealerships, truckers, delivery companies, construction, oil reserves, tourism, and yes, even bus ridership. It’s the price of gas, and they say that this summer could be one for the record books. As the price of gas soars, we’ll see the price of food, clothing, and shampoo rise thanks to retailers trying to recoup the extra they’ll be paying for delivery. Theories abound about who is responsible for the pending price hikes. Regardless of who and what are to blame, every day people like you and I still have to figure out a way to make cuts in our personal budgets to pay for that food, clothing, and shampoo. 

ABC Action News ran a story that says the price we pay for transportation is now as high as we pay for housing – $13,800 for each per year. That “transportation” assumes that you’re driving a car and includes the cost of a car payment, insurance, and of course, gas. 

If you aren’t already using the bus, we know it’s not likely you’ll ditch your car completely and suddenly become a full time bus rider (though we’d LOVE it if you did!). That’s okay, you can still save by using the bus as little as one day a week. 

Let’s make some assumptions and do some math to see what kind of savings we’re talking about: 

Question:         
A gallon of gas costs $4. Your gas tank holds 20 gallons. One tank of gas lasts you one week and you drive the same distance every day. How much do you spend each day for gas? And, if a one-day bus pass costs $4.50, how much gas money could you save by riding the bus one day a week? 

Answer:           
$4 gallon of gas times 20 gallons = $80 per tank of gas
That $80 tank of gas divided by 7 days in a week = $11.50 for gas per day
Therefore, $11.50 for one day’s gas minus a $4.50 bus pass = $7 savings

So, not even taking in account the wear and tear and mileage on your car, you could save $7 a day by riding the bus. If you save $7 in one day by not driving, and you do that one day per week, over the course of one year you could save… $364! That’ll buy a lot of food, clothes, and shampoo, my friends! 

Ready to temper the high price of driving, but not sure how to get started? Visit our website to learn How to Ride, or call the InfoLine at (727) 540-1900 and get assistance from our live, expert Customer Service Representatives. Then, be sure you check out our Real Time Bus Info system so you’ll know exactly what time the bus will arrive at your stop!

Your Editor,
Cyndi Raskin-Schmitt

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It’s Time to Get Real

You may have heard stops being automatically announced on your bus, or if you travel through the Shoppes at Park Place transfer center you may have seen the automated message signs. These are part of our brand new, state-of-the art Real Time Bus Info project that we’re gearing up for launch in the next couple of months. This system will tell you exactly when the next bus will be at your bus stop. You’ll be able to access the info at major transfer centers, online, and with handheld devices (i.e. cell phones and smart phones). Each bus stop will have a new sign installed below the bus stop sign that explains where to access the system, and will give you the bus stop ID number that is unique to that stop.

We’ve got the online site up and running in test mode and invite you to check it out! Click on “Estimated Arrivals” then enter your route, direction, and bus stop location; the system will automatically show you the next few buses scheduled for arrival. Click the “Map” button from that page to see your bus and its route on a map. Or, you can start from the “Bus Location Map” side and choose your route and/or stops after clicking the appropriate button on the top right side of the map.

Before you start clicking please remember that this site is in test mode. All the stops are not yet listed and all the buses don’t have the GPS equipment yet that makes this system work so all routes won’t show up. Routes 19, 52, and 74 were in our pilot program, so you should almost always get good info if you select one of those routes. Also, we’re in the process of adding a field where you can type in that unique bus stop number. You can sign up for email and text alerts, but since those modules are not activated, they won’t work yet. Basically, we encourage you to click around, but remember that we’re in test mode.

So, you are cordially invited to click HERE and check out the test mode of the online Real Time Bus Info. Play around with it, try it out and let us know what you think! Please share your feedback either by commenting on this post, or by sending email to ride@psta.net.

 Your Editor,
Cyndi Raskin-Schmitt

p.s. Did I mention that it’s just in test mode? I did? Great!

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Filed under Behind the Scenes, Customer Service, Projects, Real Time Bus Info