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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Pinellas transit leaders still favor merger with Hillsborough

ST. PETERSBURG - Leaders of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority want to talk with their counterparts in Hillsborough County about the possibility of an eventual merger, even though Hillsborough Area Regional Transit officials say they're not interested. "We need to draw a line in the sand if that's the way we feel," said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, a PSTA board member, at Monday's board of directors meeting. Latvala and her fellow board members voted unanimously to meet with leaders of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, known as HART. Last month, a state-mandated study concluded that merging the two transit agencies could save as much as $2.4 million annually. Both agencies resolved to ask the state to fund a second study, but HART withdrew its support last week. PSTA officials continue to support a second study and the process some hope will eventually lead to a merger – a possibility they plan to discuss with HART officials at a joint Jan. 28 meeting.
While moving headlong toward a merger would be premature, combining likely would benefit transit in both counties – if only by streamlining operations such as fares or software, Latvala said in an interview. A merger, though, could take years of work, she said. "There are so many things up in the air," Latvala said. HART board chair Fran Davin said there's nothing to be gained through further study at this point and that much of what the original study recommended doesn't require a merger. "What we need to concentrate on right now is improved and expanded service," she said. "We can do everything that the consultant recommended through interlocal agreements and contracting with each other."

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com (727) 215-7999
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