The holiday season proved to be a record setting one for transit riders and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in 2013.
In December, with kids out of school and people taking time off from work, riders boarded PSTA a record 1,164,858 times, making for a 3.2 percent jump over the same month in 2012 and an all-time record for December.
"We noticed heavy ridership going to and from the major shopping areas and we also saw heavy ridership along the beaches on our Suncoast Beach Trolley," says PSTA Director of Transportation Jeff Thompson.
Even more encouraging is the uptick in the average number of weekday rides in December. Most trips on PSTA are commuters going to and from work, and last month, the weekday ridership was up 2.5 percent over the previous year, which is typically a positive indicator for employment and the economy.
PSTA officials say that anecdotal reports from bus operators indicate higher passenger traffic and more standing-room-only loads than normal.
"We've been experiencing overcrowding on many routes during the day for quite some time now and the demand just keeps growing," adds PSTA Chief Operating Officer James Bradford.
PSTA leaders say meeting that growing demand has been a challenge due to declining property tax revenues in the wake of the Great Recession. That's why the agency will be asking voters to switch PSTA's funding from its current property tax to a 1 percent sales tax in a referendum in November. If approved, PSTA will then eliminate its current property tax of 0.7305 mils and be able to implement transformational changes and enhancements to the county's transit system as part of the Greenlight Pinellas Plan. That plan features significantly improved, countywide bus service along with the implementation of a future light rail system.