HART, PSTA to cooperate, but neither wants merger
TAMPA - They'll collaborate and cooperate but still don't want to merge. The Hillsborough and Pinellas County transit boards Monday agreed to work together more, with an eye toward saving money. But the separate recommendations both will send to the state Legislature this week each stop well short of arguing for a formal consolidation or merger. By the conclusion of the joint meeting between the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, board members from both groups agreed they would pursue efforts beyond joint fuel purchases and other collaborative projects that generally have taken place behind the scenes. The session included fence-mending over differences that emerged in recent months, in particular over whether the state Legislature should be asked to fund further study of the potential savings from consolidating top management. PSTA's board favors further study, but HART's board does not."It looks like we are two cowboys in a saloon going outside to settle our differences," HART board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said. "We are not that." Tension between HART and the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority had ratcheted up again last week after TBARTA wrote a draft letter to send to the Legislature. In the letter, the regional authority expresses disappointment that HART and PSTA did not achieve a joint recommendation. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn responded by sending an email to TBARTA's executive director saying he did not support the language in the draft letter. "I believe there are ways for this process to move forward, but it is my opinion that TBARTA's continued search for viability would be better served in some other arena," said Buckhorn, who is a TBARTA board member. Hillsborough transportation board officials were displeased a year ago when state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, required the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit boards to jointly fund up to $100,000 to study a potential merger and to involve TBARTA in the project. TBARTA Chairman Ronnie Duncan said his group's main goal was to achieve a regional transportation network. "I want people to be able to get on a bus at Tampa International Airport and go directly to the Pinellas beaches," Duncan said. "Today you cannot do that."
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