Another waste of money
When politicians don’t get results from a consultant study they want, they simply issue another study. Why not? It’s not their money being wasted. That is what is behind the $200,000 spending item inserted into our state budget to fund a study on consolidating the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). A consolidation study costing more than $100,000 was mandated by the Legislature last year, and the study findings were mixed. HART put the issue to rest, but special interests wanting to seize control won’t give up. Rail advocates want to take away local control of HART, which has been successful in meeting budgets while accommodating increased ridership demands despite less revenue from the down economy. This is about forcing HART to alter its 10-year Transit Development Plan, which includes six cost-effective bus rapid transit routes throughout the county, to instead support the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority’s master plan that includes 250 miles of costly rail. This is about bypassing the HART board made up of folks from all ends of the political spectrum yet are united against the merger. This appropriation was inserted at the last hour, without a single Hillsborough Legislative Delegation member supporting it, without vetting in a committee, and with strong opposition from HART.The agencies already collaborate when prudent. HART and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority currently partner jointly in fuel/fluid purchases to realize quantity discounts. PSTA and HART are collaborating regionally on fare media so one day a single fare card can take someone from Citrus County all the way to Sarasota County. HART and PSTA have different geographical service areas separated by a 400-square-mile bay. Despite premium bus service across all three bay bridges, ridership demand on these routes is scant going in either direction. HART has a five-year balanced budget that routinely shores up its reserves, and early budget projections indicate it will have enough revenue to expand weekend and night service. On the other hand, PSTA taxes property owners at a 40 percent higher rate, and its own CEO recently indicated publicly that PSTA will deplete its reserves and go in the red in 2015. Residents in Hillsborough County should not be forced to pay more taxes to subsidize Pinellas’ transit, which a merged transit authority would require. This $200,000 study is a waste of time and money, and I encourage Gov. Rick Scott to veto it.
Karen Jaroch is a Hillsborough County representative on the board of HART, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.