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What does the word ‘transit’ mean to you?

Joshua Shulman

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A PSTA electric bus. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

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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.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Nick Wright

    January 3, 2024at5:43 pm

    From their barbed and vitriolic comments, it is easy to suppose people like Mike and John, who appear to see no value in the development of a mass-transit system in Pinellas County, will want to wait until our streets are completely gridlocked 24/7, before understanding the necessity of building a transit system that benefits every member of our community. It is a fact that PSTA is lacking in many ways. It has been under attack for almost all of its’ existence: From state actors to small city players across the county. In its existing form, it undoubtedly has a long way to go before it can be seen as the successful mass-transit resource for our community as first envisioned over 40 years ago. For a start, its current board and management structures are far less than ideal. It is grossly underfunded and, due to perennial threats from weak-minded state actors, PSTA has suffered from a state of visionary paralysis for much of its existence. We, the people and residents of Pinellas County need to wake up to the need for a good rapid bus system or light rail service for North-South travel, as well as connecting our communities from East to West. We cannot keep extending the width of our roads to accommodate the increasing number of automobiles hitting those roads every day. There is a limit to how much road construction we can keep on doing. We need to push back against the mindless whims of the fools we elect to represent us at state, county, and city levels, who are not appreciative of the economic and social need to move our transit system into the 21st century. Our county, cities, and state population are constantly growing. Our transit system needs to keep pace with that growth. Wake up those of you who are like Mike and John…Ask yourself this question: What is the legacy I am contributing to for those who will inherit this space after I am gone?

  2. Avatar

    Mike

    December 15, 2023at4:30 pm

    And please Joshua further enlighten the people of st Pete beach who also HATE this disaster. How they refuse to pay and carry on with your propaganda machine about the city bus. They flatly reject your lies. Please in your infinite wisdom explain How they are also wrong. And you wonder why st Pete gets cutoff. It’s because you act like children who know better. Arrogant!

  3. Avatar

    Mike

    December 15, 2023at4:23 pm

    Joshua you are arrogant. I have every right to demand answers from ptsa. I own property on the sun runner route and I am sick of being lied to about the sun runner. The sun runner is an overpriced awful poorly designed city bus with a hype machine. Tell everyone why it stops on the wrong side of the road! The people demand answers! Tell everyone why this city bus is different from ANY OTHER city bus on the planet besides the price tag! It’s awful. On 49th and 1st s there are bus stops on BOTH SIDES of a three lane road!

    The criminal statue I demand imprisoning you under is threat and fraud and vandalism and endangering the public.

  4. Avatar

    Joshua Shulman

    December 11, 2023at12:42 pm

    Mike, your comments complete miss the point of the article. That being said, DEMANDING an explanation doesn’t solve anything. All of the information you seek is public record, I encourage you to visit psta.net and review meeting agendas, minutes and the recorded video. The answers to your questions are there. Further, to what criminal statute are you referring when you say that it is criminal and people should be in prison? This is exactly the type of response to which I was referring in my earlier writing. Since YOU don’t see a value, it must be wrong. I encourage you to review the FDOT traffic study that shared that traffic speeds are either the same if not faster since the implementation of the SunRunner as well as the Forward Pinellas analysis that shares that accidents are down along the corridor.

    John, your comments about the corridor being more crowded is correct, there are the same number of cars in less lanes. This does allow for a service that serves others and the fact that speeds remain consistent highlights that the original 3 lane design, was OVER designed for the traffic usage. This was confirmed by traffic studies done by the City of St. Petersburg Transportation Department. The stops are spaced further apart so as to make the service faster and an express option vs the more frequent stops of the local bus. The raised platforms are to facilitate faster on and off boarding for those in wheel chairs, assistive devices, or bicycles. The bus does not have to kneel or have bikes loaded on the front, which continues the character of this service as an express service vs a local service.

    I understand that the initial reaction when you don’t like or understand something is to say it is wrong, stupid, ill-informed, and the like. The reality is that the SunRunner was vetted by urban and transportation professionals at the local, county, state and federal level who rated this is a valuable project for this community.

  5. Avatar

    Mike

    December 10, 2023at4:24 pm

    Hey Joshua! Explain to the public why the sun runner stops on the wrong side of the road! Explain to us why a three lane one way artery has bus stops on both sides of the street! How can any reasonable adult find the sun runner anything but criminal! The people responsible should be in prison.

  6. Avatar

    Mike

    December 10, 2023at4:21 pm

    Ah no. There should be criminal investigations surrounding the sunrunner. St. Petersburg was disinvited becuase they are children and no one wants to go along with their progressive homelessness fetishism. Don’t be shocked when other towns and rational people aren’t drinking your koolaid.

  7. Avatar

    John Strauss

    December 9, 2023at4:14 pm

    As a relatively recent resident to this area, what transit in this area means to me is the Sunrunner taking away one moving lane of traffic on 1st Ave North and 1st Ave South and making the drive on these thoroughfares more stressful and crowded. There was no need for a dedicated lane – the Sunrunner could run like every other bus. They don’t run that frequently and bus stops are very widely spaced – not to mention that now that rides are thankfully no longer free, they have very few riders. The Sunrunner was and may still be taking riders from other bus lines. This bus was pushed on the community and is taxing the community without their consent. St Pete’s Beach didn’t want the bus at all and they are appropriately not taxed for it. I suspect the raised platforms at the bus stops, which are not needed for any bus, are really meant to eventually accommodate light rail. Another surprise sprung on the community.

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