While this is not a neighborhood issue, it is near enough to us that you should know what is going on.
Pinellas Transit is proposing a “bus rapid transit” system” or “BRT” for St Pete Beach. It has some support and some loud opposition.
For years, St. Pete Beach officials have told transit officials they don’t support paying for a bus rapid transit system connecting their beaches to downtown St. Petersburg.
The forceful message stretches back until at least October 2016, when residents and commissioners declined to grant the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s request to support its 11-mile bus route proposal.
“We don’t need it, our community does not even use the trolley much less any kind of bus that they might want to bring onto our beaches,” resident Vickey Imes said at an Oct. 25, 2016 meeting.
But in 2017 when the county transit authority began seeking a $20 million federal grant for the $41-million project, the proposed financial plan included St. Pete Beach contributing $1.5 million.
Those dollars, combined with $5 million from the county bus agency and $4 million from St. Petersburg, helped the the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit proposal reach a key threshold: All applicants for federal money must have 25 percent of the project covered by local funds .
“We told them well over a year now that we haven’t committed to any money and I doubt that we ever would,” Mayor Alan Johnson said Thursday. “They’re misrepresenting our financial involvement, and they have been for a long time.”
PSTA continues to compromise. It has agreed to use smaller buses, after the city objected to the larger ones. It has agreed to stop service to Pass-A-Grille, which was another request. The issue now is finding a spot to turn the buses around for the return trip to St. Petersburg, since opponents nixed the original location.
PSTA Board Chair Janet Long pointed out the Gulf Boulevard is a state road, not a municipal road, so the city has no control over the buses traveling there. In addition, St. Pete Beach is one of several municipalities that do not pay ad valorem taxes for PSTA’s services, yet it receives more service than some that do pay taxes. It’s an unfair situation, she said.
Long asked each of PSTA’s Board of Directors for their opinions and suggestions of how to get past this impasse.
Gina Driscoll, St. Petersburg councilmember, said it was obvious that the city needed to step up and do its part. She said it needed to recognize the value of PSTA to its economy and tourism. She said it was “unconscionable” for the city to “take, take, take” and not do its part.
David Allbritton, Clearwater councilmember, said all should pay their fair share. He said many hotel employees lived on the mainland and a lot of them use the bus, as well as tourists. He plans to attend St. Pete Beach’s next meeting.
Richard Bennett, North Redington Beach commissioner, is an advocate of all municipalities paying a share of PSTA costs. He said it wasn’t fair that the city paying the least should have the most bus stops.
“I struggle with this tremendously,” said Joshua Shulman of St. Petersburg, the citizen member of the board.
He said if it weren’t for how it would affect businesses and their workers, he would suggest stopping PSTA service to let the people see what it would be like without it. He said 82% of the city’s workers come from outside its borders.
Dave Eggers, Pinellas County Commissioner, was more diplomatic, suggesting that PSTA go to the chamber of commerce for support or start a petition drive. Something needs to be done so the city can see its people need the service, he said.
“St. Pete Beach is getting the milk without having the buy the cow,” said Pat Gerard, Pinellas County Commissioner. “We’ve talked before about making them buy the cow.”
“St. Pete Beach is putting BRT at risk,” said Joseph Barclay, Belleair Bluffs vice-chair. “It’s extremely important to move this forward.”
He said it was ludicrous that people in St. Pete Beach would put their head in the sand about the need for service. He said it was troublesome that PSTA wasn’t allowed to provide information when others are providing false information.
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