PSTA is cutting some transportation services

07/28/11 Andrea Lypka
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According to New York Public Transit Association, public transportation saves Americans the equivalent of 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually. But Tampa Bay might be missing out on some of those efficiencies because due to budget cuts, transit agencies are cutting bus services and next year, more citizens may be forced to carpool or drive.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) community relations manager Bob Lasher says because of declining property taxes or ad valorem revenues, PSTA will eliminate some bus trips next year. He says most affected will be early morning and evening trips on cross bay routes as well as midday trips with the lowest ridership.

“We are going to try to put more service at rush hour so that we still get people to move from work. Some of the routes in the county early morning and in the evening that don’t get enough ridership will be eliminated. Just the runs, not the whole route, will be eliminated to save money. Right now, it looks it could affect about 1 percent of our service,” Lasher said.

Officials anticipate receiving about $25 million in ad valorem revenues in 2012. This leaves a budget gap of about $5 million in the transit system. PSTA director of transportation Denise Skinner says that the impact on public transportation services will be negligible.

“And part of the way we need to fill the gap is some very minor, I believe, service adjustments. It’s about 1 percent of our service. There are several routes impacted, the 4, 5, 14, 15, 18, 19, 23, 59, 62, 66, 74, 100x and 300x,” she said.

Officials say property taxes dropped 30 percent over the last 3 years. This drop, in the worst case scenario, will affect about 64,000 riders a year. Skinner says public feedback was important in establishing service changes.

“Essentially, with the 100x route, we are eliminating three morning trips and three afternoon trips. In the 300x route, this would be two morning trips and three afternoon trips. We maintain the midday trips because there were some concerns for folks if they had an emergency,” she said.

But not all services changes are bad news. Skinner says that they are working to create seamless transit between the city and the beach resorts.

Resident Bobby VanDyke wanted to know if the new service on the beaches would run until late.

“That was my concern because I live out there by the Don Cesar. After 8 o’clock there won’t be anything going down to the beach if it sticks to what the route is right now,” he said.

Skinner said that they plan to run late service and these changes will be reviewed at the St. Pete Beach commission meeting on August 9.

Transit user Mitchell McNeelly says officials should take a closer look at broken wheelchair ramps and should add new bus signs to improve public transportation.

“You have to go out there and see where the buses go. There are bus shelters where they don’t need to be bus shelters and you have wheel chair ramps now where you can’t have the chairs go up on the curve anymore. Also, in St. Pete they haven’t put up bus signs,” he said.

PSTA community relations manager Bob Lasher says declining property taxes in the next couple of years could mean further service cuts.

“We had about 13.1 million riders last year. We are all here to try to build transit so it is very painful so it is very painful to continuously cut. There have been cuts for three years in a row due to declining ad valorem revenue in an area that it is already transit deficient. We spend a fraction on our transit n Pinellas and Hillsborough counties compared to the rest of the country based on population,” he said.

Pinellas County’s transit board has also approved some authorizations from federal and state grants for service improvements. “We are looking to get some funding also for a future terminal downtown Clearwater. The City of Clearwater has purchased the old St. Petersburg Times site which is on Myrtle Avenue and Court Street and we are hoping that in the future that can be a new terminal that we can build in partnership with the city because the facility we currently have in Clearwater has been operated beyond capacity since 1997,” Lasher said.

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