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Pinellas transit authority to reduce service, cut routes

Veronica Brezina

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PSTA's Grand Central Station . Photo by Mark Parker.

As Covid-19 relief funds are depleting and inflation is spiking, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is preparing to eliminate multiple bus routes and take other actions to stay within a tighter budget. 

This week, the PSTA board will come to a consensus on a recommended millage rate, which will pre-determine the number of routes that will be affected.

The millage rate that funds PSTA comes from a small portion of homeowners’ property taxes. Currently, the millage rate is 0.75 – the maximum rate. 

If the existing millage rate remains, PSTA will cut at least 10 of its lowest-ridership routes (depending on the outcome of a public hearing); however, if the millage rate dips to a full rollback rate of roughly 0.67, PSTA will cut over 20 routes and lay off employees. 

“We are trying to be as efficient as possible and impact the least amount of people we can,” PSTA spokeswoman Stephanie Weaver said. 

Per the recommended 0.75 millage rate, these are the suggested routes that may be eliminated or reduced:

  • Route 813 – Dunedin: Countryside Mall to Dunedin to Alderman Road (700 monthly rides)
  • Route 814 – Safety Harbor: Countryside Mall to downtown Safety Harbor (900 monthly rides)
  • Route 90 – St. Pete/St. Pete Beach: Commuter service between South St. Pete and St. Pete Beach (1,900 monthly rides)
  • Route 32 – Downtown St. Petersburg: Serving John Knox Housing (2,000 monthly rides)
  • Route 22 – St. Petersburg: 22nd Avenue N. in St. Petersburg from 4th Street to 72nd Street (2,600 monthly rides)
  • Route 5 – St. Petersburg: 5th Avenue N. in St. Petersburg from Grand Central to Tyrone Square Mall (2,700 monthly rides)
  • Route 58 – Bryan Dairy/Seminole: Serving Carillon to 113th Street to the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus (2,900 monthly rides)
  • Reduce some trips on limited stop 52LX (2,000 monthly rides)
  • Restrict Central Avenue Trolley to only operate between the St. Pete Pier and Grand Central Station (4,000 monthly ride)
  • Restrict PSTA Access Mobility on Demand (5,000 annual ride reduction)

Although the routes would be cut, Rank said PSTA will reassign the affected bus operators and allow early retirement for those eligible. The workers will not be laid off. 

As part of the reduction efforts, there wouldn’t be any pay increases for PSTA directors and chiefs. With the anticipated actions, PSTA will see 296,000 fewer annual rides and save $1.5 million.

Depending upon the board’s decision, the service reduction may go into effect Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year starts. The final decision on the millage rate will be determined in December. 

If PSTA captures additional funding, it may be able to bring the eliminated routes back online. PSTA has $2.4 million in unrestricted reserves and is aiming to reach $10 million in reserves by 2028.

Inside the agenda materials, a presentation slide compares the recommended capped-out rate to a full rollback. 

A full rollback rate would save noncommercial taxpayers on average $14.48. PSTA would then have to cut 23 of its lowest-performing routes, including the Jolley Trolley service, affecting 1.9 million riders.

PSTA would lay off 100 employees. There would also not be any pay increases for non-union workers. 

Rank said the public will be able to share concerns and questions about the proposed millage rate during a planned hearing at PSTA’s headquarters. One of the hearings is scheduled for Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. 

The specific route eliminations will be confirmed after PSTA receives input from the public hearings. 

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    VIRGINIA MCCANN

    July 21, 2023at12:04 pm

    Until, the moment that someone’s
    (dependable) transportation is stopped or temporarily unavailable to attend work, Dr. Appts, Schools, ( yes! There are kids/& high school students who depend on the PSTA Bus System, to go to school.)

    Until then…What right does anyone have to ” complain about tax-payer money?)

    It’s a blessing to KNOW there is dependable transportation,( BUSSES OR UBER ) FROM OUR CHOICES to complete our daily lives.

  2. Avatar

    James A.

    July 19, 2023at7:00 pm

    Well, if we’re cutting back nearly 300,000 rides annually, can we please have our third lane back?

  3. Avatar

    D

    July 19, 2023at6:55 pm

    People Need To Get Back And Fourth To Work And School, And Run Their Errands And Such, Quit Giving Free Rides, And Maybe That Might Help Some As Well-

  4. Avatar

    S Simon

    July 19, 2023at4:54 pm

    What about the PTSA deal with Uber that is (I believe) supposed to be only for people with bus passes being picked up at certain points? It actually allows anyone booking an Uber ride in Pinellas County to book the subsidized lower fare. This includes tourists and people going back and forth to bars or say someone going from Clearwater Beach to a strip club off 19 on a holiday weekend. Are taxpayers paying for the Ptsa Uber rides and does it come out of the budget for these rides being cut? Just curious.

    Source: I drove for Uber. Drivers hate these lower fare rides. When you check the rider app, Uber is often promoting Ptsa as “fastest”, which is untrue since UberX and Ptsa are the same cars. Maybe Uber gets Ptsa subsides on the back end? Seems like someone should look into this.

  5. Avatar

    Linda

    July 19, 2023at3:02 pm

    How does this fit in with the rules to be able to rezone your property for affordable housing?
    “ That includes a minimum of five acres and 60 units; a location within two miles of a public or vocational school, one mile of a grocery store and the Pinellas Trial or a city park and a quarter-mile of a PSTA bus line; and a maximum rent or sale price at 120% or below the area median income (AMI), with a 30-year minimum affordability period.”

    Please see https://stpetecatalyst.com/vacant-church-land-could-soon-become-affordable-housing/amp/

  6. Avatar

    Karen Kirkpatrick

    July 19, 2023at9:16 am

    47 million for the Sunrunner to the beach must have broke the bank. I am disabled & use the Access Mobility on Demand. I pay approximately $100 a month in fares. If this service gets cut or “restricted ” I am screwed. We have had bad management at PSTA for decades.

  7. Avatar

    tont

    July 18, 2023at9:08 am

    other than some major metros like NY and Chicago – most public transportation in the US is NOT a public utility like it is in Asia or Europe.

    Like it or not, public transportation in most cities is a public welfare service. The sooner we treat it like that the better it can be adapted to meet its goals and financial needs

  8. Avatar

    judytoo

    July 17, 2023at11:41 pm

    I was involved in defeating the $3 Billion train Ken Welch was trying to push through in a referendum back in 2014 (“Greenlight Pinellas”). PSTA was on the brink of bankruptcy then and has had declining ridership for the last three years. Not sure of current costs, back then it cost $7/ride, taxpayers paid $6 and taxpayers were paying $6/ride PLUS paying for ALL capital costs (buses, bus stops, buildings, etc.).

    Welsh immediately started another scheme which became the Sunrunner, taking away a lane for commuters on 1st Ave N&S and two lanes from Pasadena Ave. What a disaster, these million $+ buses have 24 seats, everyone else must stand. Which does not matter since most are nearly empty, even though there is no fare. Taxpayers are paying 100% of capital costs and 100% of operating costs to run nearly empty buses every 15 minutes from downtown to St. Pete Beach.

    Elections do have consequences and no one seems to care that Ken Welch has made a career (20 years as a county commissioner and now mayor of St. Petersburg) of wasting taxpayers’ money on boondoggles, the latest being “affordable housing” which resulted in turning down the Moffitt Cancer Center in St. Petersburg because it did not have enough “affordable housing” units. Given today’s cost of building, those affordable units are like unicorns, nice to have but difficult to find.

    So now PSTA has finally run out of government grants and has to scale back, which is no surprise given the mismanagement over the years, the lack of riders (less than 2% of Pinellas residents). Either turn it over to a private operator or let it go. Their own numbers show that hardly anyone is riding most of the buses. People who actually need public transit could be given Uber or taxi debit cards if they qualify and save the taxpayers millions of $$ every year.

    We are currently paying a total of about $180 million a year for buses that very few ride. Give us a break! We can use a little extra money to buy groceries!

  9. Avatar

    Mike C

    July 17, 2023at9:36 pm

    Doesnt take a research study to see buses very often with little to no riders. But as Mr. Scott notes, add more sunrunners to drive around looking for anyone to accept a free ride.

  10. Avatar

    Thomas Scott

    July 17, 2023at6:13 pm

    And Sunrunner will remain FREE !?!?!

    And let’s buy more Sunrunner buses to keep giving free rides ???????

  11. Avatar

    Bill Schaill

    July 17, 2023at3:32 pm

    It’s good to see that St. Pete is busy running in two directions – approving new buildings without parking (to encourage use of public transportation) and defunding public transportation. There’s no schizophrenia here!

  12. Avatar

    VintageVNvet

    July 17, 2023at3:10 pm

    It is ”millage” not mileage for taxes… it’s mileage for taxis.
    Just saying.

    • Joe Hamilton

      Joe Hamilton

      July 17, 2023at9:19 pm

      Fixed – thanks for the heads up!

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