On March 7, after careful consideration and following presentations from both supporters and opponents of Pinellas County's new comprehensive transit blueprint known as the Greenlight Pinellas Plan, the Clearwater City Council voted unanimously to support the transformational, countywide proposal.
"I think this is what is needed for Pinellas county and the Tampa Bay region," said Mayor George Cretekos after talking about his experiences using public transit in other cities and how Pinellas County is so far behind those metropolitan areas when it comes to transit options. Pinellas County Commission Chair, Karen Seel was also on hand and reminded the city leaders and their audience that the Tampa Bay region is now the last major metropolitan area in the United States that doesn't have a robust transit system.
Council members asked PSTA CEO Brad Miller numerous questions about the financial assumptions of the Greenlight Pinellas Plan and for additional details regarding service implementation and funding. Miller addressed those concerns and Council Member Paul Gibson, known as savvy fiscal conservative, said that he has spent considerable time going over the Ernst & Young report on the Greenlight Pinellas financials and found them to be sound and that he believes that the plan is in the best interests of the citizens of Clearwater.
Those financials include a referendum set for November 4, 2014, which will ask voters to approve a funding change for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority from its current .7305 mil property tax to a 1 percent sales tax (not applied to groceries, medical items and limited to the first $5,000 of any purchase). That change would allow for significant and foundational improvements to the county's transit system, giving residents and visitors greater and more convenient transportation choices.
If approved, the Greenlight Pinellas Plan will encompass a 65 percent increase in bus service including:
- Buses running more frequently and for longer hours of the day - especially on weekends.
- Service to Tampa at night and on weekends including Tampa International Airport and Westshore.
- Buses running every 15 minutes on core routes and every 30 minutes on the supporting network
- Park 'n' Ride lots
- ]Circulators connecting neighborhoods to the primary corridors.
Those enhancements will then form a foundation of quick and easy connections to a passenger rail line from St. Petersburg to the Gateway/Carillon area and to Clearwater, expected to be running by 2024.
PSTA is currently experiencing all-time record ridership and gave more than 14.45 million rides in 2013. Despite the loss of more than $40 million dollars in property tax revenue since 2008 (due to the Great Recession), which resulted in significant cuts in service - PSTA ridership has grown by 19 percent. To help prevent further cuts in service, the agency is currently using reserve funds to meet the all-time record demand. If the Greenlight measure doesn't pass, those reserves will run out and the agency will be forced to cut service by 28 percent in 2017.
Details of the Greenlight Pinellas Plan along with Q&A and background data can be found at www.greenlightpinellas.com.