PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – SunRunner, the rapid transit bus line in St. Petersburg, which has been free of charge since last October, will now have a fare, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority leaders ruled Wednesday.

Board members voted on a new motion filed by board member Rene Flowers, seeking Oct. 1, 2023, as the start of fares for the SunRunner instead of the original Nov. 1 date.

The motion passed 13 to 2.

When the SunRunner began running, the service was free for the first six months, then PSTA extended the free service until Oct. 2023. Now that the motion has passed, riders will be expected to pay $2.25 to ride the SunRunner.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri asked PSTA board members to consider adding a fare as he says homeless people taking advantage of the free service are causing issues on St. Pete Beach.

“It’s in some cases theft, it’s trespassing, it’s disorderly conduct,” Gualtieri said.

The Sheriff says calls for service at the Dolphin Village shopping center, which is adjacent to a SunRunner stop, have increased 535 percent from July 2022 to March 2023. According to the Sheriff, concerns with homeless people are the reason for those service calls.

“This is the chronic homeless and often times very criminally involved homeless, and when they found out about it, that’s when they started hoping on the free ride,” he said.

According to PSTA’s website, “When, or it, PSTA begins collecting fares, a one-way ticket will cost $2.25, while an all-day pass will be available for $5.”

The motion filed by Flowers also requires PSTA to meet with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and an agency for the homeless to come up with long-term solutions to help the unhoused and prevent problems at hand.

Leaders at the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas are concerned with how the decision will impact the community.

“We have a family that’s now going to pay $5 a day to get to and from work that previously didn’t have to pay, how is that actually going to impact them,” said Dr. Monika Alesnik, Homeless Leadership Alliance.

Before members voted on the motion, the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas, the Pinellas Continuum of Care, wrote a letter urging the PSTA to continue providing the SunRunner for free.

The letter reads in part:

Increasing the SunRunner’s fares – even nominally – while requiring these fees be paid electronically raises concerns about equity and accessibility. Requiring payment through a card system excludes individuals without access to such technology, effectively sidelining those who are already marginalized, including residents experiencing homelessness.

Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas