PSTA Board Votes Against Service Cuts
The unanimous vote is tied to an agreement to find $5 million in new operating funds by July. If funds are not found by then, service cuts could still take place.
PINELLAS COUNTY – The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board of directors unanimously voted today (April 25) to avoid service cuts by committing to find $5 million in new annual operating funds.
PSTA is one of the lowest funded transit agencies in the country for its size – even though, local officials say, it is one of the most efficient – providing the same amount of service with only one third of the funding of similar communities.
Because of years of underinvestment and current projected budget deficits, PSTA proposed route cuts unless $5 million of recurring annual operating funds could be secured.
“Please keep in mind that PSTA provides the best service that we are able to do with the dollars that we have and you don’t drive ridership when you are consistently cutting your routes.
“What folks look for is efficiency and dependability so they know that they can get back and forth to work,” said PSTA Board Chair and Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long.
“With that said, our total budget is approximately $80 million. In any other similar sized community across the U.S., a bus system with the numbers of population that we have in our county, they spend approximately $220 million. So, when you think about that discrepancy, you know that no matter what we do, we are terribly, terribly underfunded in Pinellas County.”
PSTA received more than 300 public comments by phone, e-mail and in person leading up to the board meeting which began with a public hearing where residents were encouraged to speak.
“I work at St. Anthony’s Hospital and I’m concerned about Bus 5. I ride that bus every day to work. That bus is a blessing to me. That job is a blessing to me. St. Anthony’s Hospital [has] been good to me. They hired me. They accepted me, and I would like to keep working there. I cannot walk to work (because of my bad knee)…I can’t afford a car. I can’t afford car insurance right now. I have to save money to get a car later…so I can do better. I’d appreciate it if you let Bus 5 stay the way it is. Thank you,” said PSTA rider Melissa Curry.
After public comments, the board voted against service cuts and to pursue $5 million in funds by July to keep these routes. If a source for the $5 million is not found in time for the FY20 budget draft and adoption, these service cuts could take effect in October 2019. In the meantime, PSTA will be forced to use limited capital reserves to address the projected budget shortfall.
“The county…is looking at all means of funding transportation which could include everything from raising the gas tax to going back to the voters with a referendum…even taking dollars from general funds,” said Whit Blanton, exxecutive director of Forward Pinellas. “My understanding is the next step is to schedule a workshop with the county commissioners in May or June…present all those options on the table, get some policy direction from the county commissioners and then figure out from there, what the priorities would be.”
Photo courtesy of the PInellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
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