Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.
When you mention transit in a group setting, you will usually get a handful of potential responses. I use my car, I ride my bike, I think there is too much traffic, I spend too much on taxes, and yes, even I take the bus. There are two main noteworthy items from this list; the first is that transit clearly means different things to different people, and second that each of these statements starts with “I.”
No matter how you use the word transit, it is a community asset, a community resource and a community responsibility. There are those who truly believe that certain forms of transit are inferior to others, mostly because they, or the people they know, don’t use them. This does not mean that they are not valuable to you and the community in which you live.
I agree that we need to be critical of our choices, revisit decisions, analyze results and make informed predictions about the future. This is the nature of navigating a complex world and providing for a community with divergent needs and resources. This brings me to the point of this writing.
State Representative Linda Chaney has put forth a bill along with a partisan backing by the Pinellas Legislative Delegation to “increase oversight and accountability” to the PSTA board. To be clear, it does none of those things, but it sounds good, right? A bill with that “penalizes the needy and rewards the wealthy” is less marketable, although maybe not in Tallahassee.
There are several main aspects to this Bill that Rep. Chaney is trying to achieve. She wants to change the makeup of the board and reduce the number of board seats. Reducing the number of board seats means that less of our community will have a say on what happens with our transit agency, this concentrates more power with the County Commission vs. the cities that are losing their representation on the board. Can you recall a time when consolidating power led to GREATER accountability? The Bill also takes away appointment power from our local government and hands it to the Senate President, and Florida Speaker of the House.
I’ll pause here while you try to think of who they are and where they live. Go on, I’ll wait …
These appointments unnecessarily inject a greater level of partisan politics to your transit agency and reduce control at the local level.
It is interesting that there are some in our community that feel since they “pay taxes” they should have a greater say; (for the record, our system of government is not based on who pays taxes, it is based on citizenship) this BILL decreases the SAY of the people by decreasing representation. What it really does is reshuffle the board so as to give power to the people with whom they agree (POWER GRAB).
As a citizen, you should also know that if you are using the claim of being a taxpayer as your litmus test for representation, that the Bill gives board seats to municipalities in Pinellas County that pay NO property TAX to PSTA. Representatives from these municipalities will have the ability to TAX YOU while they pay NOTHING.
This bill has come about for several reasons, one of which being the belief that ridership is down over the last 10 years. I want to set the record straight about that. The answer is YES. It is down from 10 years ago, absolutely, without a doubt, down; but that is nowhere near the whole story. Let’s look back to 2012 (10 years ago based on current data).
In 2012, home prices were down 43%, unemployment was 8.3%, the poverty rate was 14.1% and gas was at $4/gallon (or $5.12/gallon in today’s dollars). This was the bottom of the great recession. So, transit was up. PSTA provided a service to those who needed it and ridership grew. Let’s fast forward to 2022 to keep the timeframe the same, home prices have increased 222%, unemployment is 2.1%, poverty dropped (to a still too high) 12.3%, gas is $3/gallon. In this environment, more people are doing better and therefore making the choice to use transit less. Even in this context, PSTA had its 17th highest ridership year in its 40-year history last year.
PSTA’s board has been working to balance the needs of our community, those that ride and those that don’t. There is no answer that will make everyone happy, but the board and board committees have been working to address the issues brought forward and navigate a path that attempts to bring forward the best product at the most reasonable cost.
I invite anyone interested in our transit system to attend the board meeting, attend the committee meeting, engage the board members. I also invite Rep. Chaney to do the same, since she has not been to our meetings to address her real concerns.
Joshua Shulman is a PSTA board member, and chairs the PSTA Planning Committee.