Monday, February 20, 2017

Here We Go Again: Another Transportation Campaign

Tampa Bay taxpayers keep enriching the same consultants on our transportation issue over and over and over.

After taxpayers spent $1.2 million on the Go Hillsborough debacle, taxpayers are currently funding a $1.6 million study on expanding the failed streetcar.

And now we have the latest $1.5 million taxpayer funded "let's hire a new consultant same as the old consultant" gig. How did this one come about and what are they doing? We'll connect some dots.

While taxpayers were still paying Parsons Brinckerhoff in 2015 for Go Hillsborough and the sales tax hike was still being considered, the Transportation Management Association (TMA) was talking trains - again. The TMA are electeds and transportation officials representing the MPO's of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. Their meetings are well attended by insiders and special interests but fly under the radar of the general public because most do not know this group exists.

In October of 2015 the Tampa Tribune reported CSX tracks may be route to commuter rail's future.

The November 2015 TMA meeting focused on commuter rail, SunRail, the CSX corridor and how to get into the federal funding grant program for transit.

At the January 5, 2016 MPO meeting, FDOT presented the concept of passenger service on CSX-owned freight rail corridors. The presentation included the chart below depicting a hybrid rail pilot project from downtown to USF using a hybrid rail car that can run on freight tracks similar to what the city of Austin implemented. They also admit it would take 24-31 minutes to go from downtown Tampa to USF by train while  driving that trip today during rush hour is about 30 minutes, and of course less during non-rush hours.
Hybrid Rail Pilot Project presented at
January 5, 2016 MPO meeting
Rail projects require millions and billions of dollars and a committed long term revenue source to get federal funding. So the TMA invited transit lobbyist Jason Jordan, as we posted here, to their April 2016 meeting to present how to win sales tax hike referendums.

All of this led to FDOT handing HART $1.5 million last year to fund something… and hire another consultant. As reported by the Tampa Tribune last March:
Headed up by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, or HART, the study will determine how to connect Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties through various forms of public transit. 
The scope of work for the study is now being determined, after which a consultant will be hired, said HART CEO Katharine Eagan. 
“At this point, we are meeting with members of the Transportation Management Association, which has members from each county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, talking about what to do in this corridor. Specifically, we are looking at connections between the three counties, which could include rail infrastructure.”
At least HART used an RFP to procure the work (unlike Go Hillsborough). HART's RFP was titled Tampa Bay Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Study and can be found here.

The scope of this work is not a feasibility study. The scope is to create and sell to the public a regional transit plan for projects to pursue federal grant money, e.g. New Starts.

A selection committee representing Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco rated the three vendors who responded to the RFP. Based on their ratings, Jacobs Engineering was awarded the $15. million contract. Jacobs did the alternatives analysis for the failed Greenlight Pinellas and was a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff on Go Hillsborough.

The 128 page Jacobs response to HART's RFP is found here. Most of it is boiler plate stuff but the work is not a feasibility study. Jacobs will review and update past studies, not do another study and they include many of the same people who worked on HART's 2010 rail project, Greenlight Pinellas and Go Hillsborough.

Like Parsons Brinckerhoff did with Go Hillsborough, Jacobs Engineering brings their PR firm B2 Communications attached to this work effort. Lots of the same public engagement elements as Go Hillsborough are included: focus groups, tele-townhalls, polling, social media, branding, coalition building, targeted outreach, etc.

B2 Communications also worked on the failed Greenlight Pinellas campaign. They presented their Lessons Learned at the 2015 Transit Initiatives and Communities Conference sponsored by the transit advocacy/lobbying group Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE). These CFTE conferences are billed as "the only national conference exclusively devoted to understanding transportation ballot measures and providing concrete advice on how to win."

Unfortunately oddly missing in this effort is our own transportation think tank at USF, the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR).  Why?

After the contract was awarded to Jacobs, they requested the name of the work be changed to Regional Premium Transit Plan to more appropriately fit the work scope they are doing.

So at the January 10, 2017 Pinellas County Commission meeting where Katherine Eagan, CEO of HART presented she called this work a plan as TBNweekly reported (emphasis mine):
The goal is to come up with three priority projects supported by all parties that will meet Federal Transit Administration’s requirements for capital and/or operations funding. The goal is to complete work on the plan by September 2018. The plan will include coming up with a consensus about who will build the projects, who will run them and how they will be paid for. Eagan said the purpose of the evaluation plan was to determine the most competitive projects for federal funding.
While taxpayers are funding another consultant, taxpayers have already paid for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco MPO's to complete their federally mandated 25 year Long Range Transportation Plans (LRTP's) and five year Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP's).

In addition, taxpayers have already paid TBARTA to create a Regional Master Plan:
The 2015 Master Plan update builds upon previous updates, refining the regional networks and outlining a strategic vision for implementation. New to this update, the TBARTA Master Plan will serve as the Regional LRTP, a plan previously completed by the West Central Florida MPO Chairs Coordinating Committee (CCC). To join the plans, changes were made to the Regional Networks to more closely reflect the combined priorities and vision of the two entities. 
All of these plans were created collaboratively through robust public engagement according to all the agencies creating them.

Jacobs presentation during the HART RFP process does not start off with a problem statement about our transportation and mobility issues that needs addressing. They start with lessons learned for why taxpayers rejected previous sales tax hikes to fund transit.

This Jacobs slide is striking because it appears this is Jacobs problem statement - not addressing our mobility issues.
Jacobs RFP Presentation
Does Jacobs think Tampa Bay voters and taxpayers are stupid? Apparently, we have not been educated enough after millions of dollars, including tons of taxpayer money and resources, have been spent on education campaigns trying to sell voters and taxpayers to raise taxes for costly rail/transit solutions.

And that must be why according to their slide below, more than half of Jacob's work effort is public engagement.
Jacobs Engineering $1.5 million
Regional Premium Transit Plan

Ironically, Jacobs states there is a need to listen to the public but the public has consistently stated fixing our roads is the highest priority.

But here we go again. The same echo chamber of consultants, PR firms and special interests who keep trying to sell us on costly trains are at it again.

If it walks and squawks like another taxpayer funded PR campaign, it is another PR campaign.

And this time it has gone regional.

———————————————————————————————————

Notes:
Commuter rail ridership in Austin DECLINED 11% third quarter 2016 according to the latest APTA ridership numbers just published. Total transit ridership in Austin is less than it was 18 years ago while their population has grown 66% over that same period.

While we keep being told that Denver is a model to follow for costly rail transit, Downtown Denver survey shows people are opting to drive over using public transit


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long just can’t seem to take the heat

Long went after two of her biggest and most vocal critics Tom Rash and Barb Haselden both long-time activists in the public transit arena.


St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author:
In Search of Robin
As Commissioner Janet Long attempts to push her regional transit authority idea forward, dissent is mounting. See saintpetersblog, Mitch Perry, Janet Long lashes out at transit critics and my post Bay Area Regional Transit Authority – Janet Long's Dream to Tax you more.
Long has been continually frustrated by failed attempts to get a sales tax referendum passed in Pinellas County so a guaranteed flow of money will be available for pet transportation projects.
A classic example of these regional transit authorities is TBARA of which Long said, “I don’t know if you’ve been to a TBARTA board meeting, but I thought I was going to eat my brains out!” It is four hours of — excuse my expression — bullsh*t. All you do is listen to one study after another study after another presentation, and on and on. They don’t do anything!”
Well said Commissioner. And what makes you think your new taxing authority would be any different?
Long went after two of her biggest and most vocal critics Tom Rash and Barb Haselden both long-time activists in the public transit arena.
Rask and Haselden were both highly active in the failed Pinellas transit sales tax efforts and Long has never really gotten over the Greenlight debacle.
“I really paid attention when Greenlight failed,” Long says, referring to the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas transit tax that went down to defeat. “It frustrates me beyond belief when the Tom Rask‘s and Barb Haselden’s of the world — no matter how hard you try to be thoughtful, be considerate, be creative in terms of trying to provide good public transportation — they will not see anything good in what you do,” she said."
Apparently, she did pay a lot of attention to the 62% defeat of Greenlight since her primary goal is to take transit financing out of the hands of the public and put taxation power in the hands of her new state authorized “Regional Transit Authority.”
Long has a history of attacking the messenger and not getting the message. Fortunately, Rask and Haselden are not intimidated by Long’s often harsh comments and hawkish looks. They speak for many people who would not want to experience Long’s wrath.
It was unfortunate that thanks to some clever Republican Politics Long managed to get reelected. It would be nice if the Commissioner focused her efforts on issues that affect her constituency.
A lot of the work on this regional transit authority will go on just out of public view as Jack Latvala, Janet long and others work to pull the regional authority together with help from the State Legislature with little public input or scrutiny.
That’s where Tom Rask, Barb Haselden, Sharon Calvert and others come in.
Without ongoing watchfulness, this regional taxing authority will be dipping its hand into your wallet to provide “transportation options” that you do not want or need, and that will not meet the real public transportation need.
For now, the first step to any regional transit authority must be the complete and total dissolution of TBARTA and  a firm understanding that none of the TBARTA people will play any role in a new transit authority. Otherwise, the citizens will get a new tax, years of even more expensive studies and little to show for their money.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

HART Amends MOU with PSTA Because Skepticism is Warranted

Yesterday the HART Board (Hillsborough's local transit agency) took up a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with PSTA (Pinellas's local transit agency) that is a legally binding umbrella contract for the agencies to pursue collaboration opportunities.

HART already collaborates so this MOU is not necessary. Best practices with the most protections for taxpayers and HART itself would be for each area of collaboration to be transparently and separately contractually addressed like they have done in the past.

We're all for collaborating when it is mutually beneficial. However, PSTA has been fiscally mismanaged for years and Brad Miller was forced to return $350K of federal transit security funds PSTA misused for Greenlight Pinellas advertising in 2014. HART should always take caution when dealing with PSTA.

The HART Board did decide to move forward with the MOU but it was only after much Board discussion. After a show of opposition from Board members John Melendez, Karen Jaroch and Commissioner Stacy White, the Board did add language recommended by Commissioner Murman to protect Hillsborough County taxpayers and HART's own sovereignty. As SaintPetersblog reported yesterday,
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate and collaborate with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but only after adding additional language clarifying that it is not a move towards a potential merger or a regional sales tax increase.
That is good. Adding such language is appreciated because of the current push for regional decision making and push for regional sales tax funding. And that big regionalism push is coming mostly out of Pinellas County, PSTA, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, and their echo chamber the Tampa Bay Times.

Why is there so much skepticism about the HART-PSTA MOU? 

Because it immediately sprung up after Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long presented her "Regional Council of Governments" proposal to HART last October. 

Because Long's proposal came just as the latest $1.5 million taxpayer funded campaign for the Regional Premium Transit PLAN (a post for another day) had just begun.

But most of all we remember where the Genesis for the merger of HART and PSTA began.

It goes back to the December 2012 joint HART/PSTA meeting (video clip below). 

At that 2012 meeting Senator Latvala states a rail between Pinellas and Hillsborough needs a regional operating authority. Latvala states that he would help with legislation to merge HART and PSTA and create this regional entity via some type of Inter-local agreement that avoids the voters and a referendum.

Why the skepticism? Because at PSTA's Executive Committee meeting held on January 6, 2017, CEO Brad Miller (about 2:00 in video of the meeting) outlines his timeline. PSTA approves the MOU on 1/25, HART approves it on 2/6, and then he and HART CEO Katherine Eagan and their lobbyist(s) go to Tallahassee immediately on 2/7 to jointly present it to our legislators [to ask for funding to implement Long's regional proposal].

Guess what? Brad Miller high tailed it to Tallahassee today, with MOU in hand, as reported by SaintPetersblog.
The MOU is on the checklist for Miller and four PSTA board members – Samantha Fenger, Patti Johnson, Brian Scott, and Joe Barkley – to discuss with legislators today.
What version did Miller take? Did he take the version PSTA approved on 1/25 or the latest version with the changes added yesterday by HART that HART approved? Has PSTA even approved the latest version?  

This kind of disjointedness and disconnect happens when as Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long stated the "timeline is more important than the document".

This is not delusional, this is reality. 

Just look at the chart below presented by Commissioner Janet Long at the January 13 PSTA workshop. Who could not be skeptical of the real intentions of the HART-PSTA MOU and why PSTA and Pinellas County keep pushing their regionalism and merger agenda on Hillsborough County?
Chart from Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long's
Regional Vision she presented at January 13 PSTA workshop
So it is good that the HART Board took protective action yesterday and kudos to them for doing so.

Because the taxpayers must always be protected.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Bay Area Regional Transit Authority – Janet Long's Dream to Tax you more

It's Time to get the band back together. Opposition against this regional transit authority needs to get active now.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet long aided by TBARTA, HART, PSTA their leadership and boards of directors continue the slow steady pace toward a regional transit authority. Essentially a State established entity that would manage public transportation area wide with taxing authority to generate revenue.

This authority would essentially be a mash up of the local public transportation boards into a super board that would manage public transportation development and fund it through either a property or sales tax.

The current local Boards of directors have not been particularly effective and there is little reason to believe that a super board or authority made up of the same folks would do much better.

For example, look at this report by saintpetersblog, Scott Powers, Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold threatens to pull Tri-Rail’s state money.

These Authorities tend to operate out of public view, managed by paid Executive Directors and a paid staff that invests its time in promoting a preconceived idea of "public transit." The result is typical of the Powers story.

The motivation behind this effort is the three failed referendums in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to initiate a sales tax to fund public transportation.

Never mind, the fact that Bay area voters have three times resoundingly rejected the idea of a sales tax to buy the politicians shinny buses and light rail trains, Long and her growing group of supporters want to work their way around all of those pesky referendums and tax you without your ability to have a say.

Like most of these efforts to organize authorities, the real object is money not public transportation. "Public Transportation" is on the banners, signs, ads and promotional materials but what is really at stake is a high-level authority with State authorized taxing powers that the voters cannot regulate.

Few were more aggressive in their support of an angrier when GreenLight Pinellas failed than Janet Long.

Her prime objective is to take the ability to control public transit funding by taxation out of the hands of the public and place the ability to tax you for public transportation in the hands of a carefully picked board that will support the public transit as THEY see it.

Long's regional transit authority is a behind-the-scenes low profile effort to push legislation that will create a taxing authority.

It is time to get the opposition to this regional authority up and running and let legislators know that the Long plan for a regional transit authority is a non-starter with the people who pay the bills and vote.

Let's get NO TAX FOR TRACKS back on the road again.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Be sure to follow me on Pintrest (Doc Webb),  Like or share on Facebook and follow me on TWITTER  @DOC ON THE BAY

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Battle for Major League Sports Support and dollars heats up.

Bill Edwards and Rick Baker – A powerhouse team looking to make the Rowdies St. Petersburg's premier major league sports franchise.


St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin


Some outtakes  from the Trigaux article:
"First, back the Rowdies in its current effort to bump up from the fading NASL to the MLS tier of soccer. Edwards and his as yet unidentified ownership group will submit their MLS application Monday, Jan. 30, just ahead of the end-of month deadline for all interested MLS bidders.

Second, commit to Rowdies season tickets as a tangible sign of support for an MLS team in St. Petersburg. Barring that, sign a letter of support to accompany the MLS application.

Third, buy tickets for and support the upcoming "Rowdies Suncoast Invitational" later in February. It features five MLS soccer clubs playing at Al Lang Stadium, the Rowdies home field. It's the second year for the invitational. And, as Edwards told the chamber crowd, MLS officials will be watching attendance to gauge how bullish the bay area is for soccer."

Best of all, Edwards says he will pay for the new stadium, priced at up to $80 million. In a bigger world of pro sports teams and owners clamoring for public funding for new stadiums, that makes the Edwards' offer all the more compelling.

 Or more succinctly put.
The Rowdies Plan
1. Move the Rowdies from NASL to MLS
2. Support the Rowdies by buying tickets or sending letters of support
3. Support Rowdies Suncoast Invitational in February
4. Build a new Stadium that the Rowdies (Bill Edwards) will pay for.

If the form looks vaguely familiar, check out the Baker Plan of former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker.
The Baker Plan:
1. Improving schools
2. Neighborhoods
3. Public safety
4. Economic development

The comparison here is not necessarily the substance but the form. Each plan has four achievable action points that are easily grasped.

Baker knows how to put a plan together, define it so people understand and execute the plan.

It is quite possible that as the Tampa Bay Rays continue their dance for new stadium, the Tampa Bay Rowdies may become the next big thing in St. Petersburg.

With Bill Edwards and Rick Baker driving the train, now is the time to get on board with the Rowdies.

If you want to be part of the Rowdies Plan, click here Tampa Bay Rowdies and get in the game.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Be sure to follow me on Pintrest (Doc Webb),  Like or share on Facebook and follow me on TWITTER  @DOC ON THE BAY

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Third Season Update - Oldsmar still in the race for the new Rays Stadium


Where else in the United States could you go see a horse race or two, bet on the ponies, walk across the street, and catch a major-league baseball game.


St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

You just have to love Doug Bevis the Mayor of Oldsmar.

“I would say that we’re still in the running and I think we have a site that offers things that some of the other sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas don’t offer,” Bevis said.

In case you are not familiar with Oldsmar, it is a Pinellas County City, lying along the border between Pinellas and Hillsborough County North of St. Petersburg with a population of about 13,800.

Check out Bay News 9 Josh Rojas, Oldsmar still in running for new Ray's stadium site

As the Third Season, the time between the end of the World Series and early spring training, winds down it has been quiet especially in Hillsborough County and Tampa.

Ben Kirby, the spokesman for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, said the city has no formal meetings planned with the Rays, but the “mayor does talk with them occasionally.”

According to the Rojas, Bay News 9 piece Mayor Bevis indicated the Rays are hoping to pick a site in the next five months. Wonder of Kriseman knew that.

That would be interesting since MLB likes to focus on baseball during the season and leave the politics to later.

When Bevis first announced that the 120-acre site near the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack might be available, a lot of people just laughed it off. Apparently, the Rays did not.

Maybe Mayor Kriseman and St. Petersburg would be better off if he gave the Rays a little pat on the fanny and endorsed the Oldsmar location.

With a series of nightmarish problems, a number of huge projects, and a struggling south side, drumming up public dollars for a gazillion dollar baseball stadium may be a big campaign downer.

It will also be interesting to see if, when and how much the Rays put up for the Mayor's re-election campaign.

For now, my money is on Oldsmar.

Where else in the United States could you go see a race or two, bet on the ponies, walk across the street, and catch a major league baseball game.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Be sure to follow me on Pintrest (Doc Webb),  Like or share on Facebook and follow me on TWITTER  @DOC ON THE BAY

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

HART Must Protect Local Taxpayers and Their Sovereignty

The Eye was at HART's Legislative Committee meeting Monday where the proposed Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) agreement between HART and PSTA was discussed.

Important to note: this MOU is a legally binding agreement just like any other inter-local agreement.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat who is also Vice-Chair of PSTA, has been using PSTA as a proxy to push her regionalism proposal that includes merging PSTA and HART, regionalizing decision making and power and pursuing a multi-county sales tax hike [2020?].

As we find out what is going on in those "quiet discussions" held underneath the radar of the public, there are valid concerns about the true intent (at least by some) of this MOU agreement.
Long's Regional Vision Presentation to PSTA
For transparency, I made a public comment at the beginning of the HART Legislative meeting expressing concerns about the MOU and requested assurances that this agreement not be used to pursue a merger with PSTA.

The Board members discussed the MOU. There were a few fireworks and some tap dancing going on as statements were made that the MOU is an endeavor to work together and collaborate and not a merger.

SaintPetersblog reported on the meeting: HART board members deny that collaboration with PSTA is a backdoor attempt to merge agencies. They reported what HART Attorney David Smith said after citizens voiced concerns during public comment.
“Anyone who tries to interpret this as a pre-merger or merger, is, I don’t want to say hallucinating, but there’s no basis in fact for that,” said HART attorney David Smith, when asked if it was necessary to include Calvert’s “no merger” request in the MOU itself.
Ironically it was HART Board attorney David Smith who recommended some changes for clarification and we assume he was not hallucinating.

Smith recommended changing the terminology in the MOU agreement from "Partnership Opportunities" to an agreement for "Future Collaboration". That change is an improvement since Partnerships are legal relationships whereas collaboration is to cooperatively work together. But who knows if their next collaboration will be to collaborate on merging…

Another change added to the MOU is that the agreement must be reviewed and re-authorized annually and a document on all actions taken must be annually provided. That is good as it adds needed accountability.

As SaintPetersblog also reported Murman and Suarez are on record stating
“None of these words in this document speak to any type of merger, taxation. Nothing about going to Tallahassee. Nothing,” said an exasperated Sandy Murman, chairman of the committee.
Board member Mike Suarez also said he didn’t see anything in the draft agreement that touches on merging.
Perhaps the HART Board members should watch the videos of PSTA's January 4th Legislative Committee Meeting where Long stated the timeline is more important than the MOU; and PSTA's January 6th Executive Committee Meeting where Miller outlined the aggressive timeline to get the agreement approved and immediately take it to Tallahassee to ask for state money to fund Long's regionalism agenda; and read Commissioner Long's Presentation she gave at PSTA's January 13 Workshop meeting that clearly states her direction is for a merger and regional sales tax funding.

The PSTA videos confirms Miller and HART's Eagan were working together on the agreement.

Considering all of this:
  • Multiple attempts to merge HART and PSTA (that failed)
  • January 2013 video of PSTA's Miller egregious proposal to go around voters with a backdoor merger
  • Commissioner Long's current proposal for a new regional entity, Regional Council of Governments which she has also referred may be called the Tampa Bay Transit Authority
  • Commissioner Long touting new regional sales tax funding [in addition to the current jurisdictional property tax funding]
  • Commissioner Long and PSTA orchestrating a fast path timeline for ramming the MOU thru
  • Intentions by Commissioner Long and PSTA to immediately take the MOU to Tallahassee to request another round of state tax dollars feeding yet another consultant funding another study on how to implement Long's Regional Vision
Commissioner Long's Regional Vision would
broadly take away local control
It is not "hallucinating" but healthy skepticism to have concerns about the intent of this MOU legally binding agreement.

While Long, Miller and the PSTA Board are clearly moving in the direction of a merger, HART Board members indicated otherwise at their January 23rd Legislative Committee meeting. Several HART Board members stated HART's sovereignty cannot be compromised.

The Tampa Bay Times, who clearly supports Commissioner Long's regionalism agenda, always wants a sales taxes hike for costly trains but never questions any budget, published an editorial yesterday about FDOT Secretary Boxold resigning that included:
Boxold's departure also clouds an effort pushed by Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long to create a regional structure for coordinating and implementing mass transit, which could include merging bus systems and transportation planning. That effort is gaining support and could require legislation this spring to study it.
Long's effort is not gaining support and there is no evidence of such. Making such statement is fake news trying to create a false narrative for support that does not exist. Most people in the Tampa Bay area do not know about Long's proposal or have any clue about what she and her cohorts are attempting to do.

Obviously, the Times missed HART's Legislative Committee meeting Monday discussing the MOU agreement, or someone did not hand them correct talking points, because there was no support by HART Board members for a merger or a regional sales tax hike.

HART, PSTA, Long and the Times have created confusion. That happens when trying to ram through a confusing agreement on a fast timeline. The only way to resolve the mess is for specific language be  included in the legally binding MOU that protects the taxpayers.

The MOU agreement, passed at yesterday's PSTA Board meeting, will be on the agenda of the full HART Board meeting on February 6th.

Collaborating where it is mutually beneficial makes sense and HART and PSTA already are collaborating. The best approach that would eliminate confusion or skepticism would be to address each area of potential collaboration separately so all the details of each collaboration is transparently discussed and provided in full disclosure.

This MOU is a legally binding agreement just like any Inter-local agreement and there should be no confusion or gray matter swirling around it. We all know how lawyer legalese works if things are not specifically made clear in writing.

Therefore, if the HART Board wants this type of agreement approved, we call on them to add language to the MOU agreement that specifically states "the intent of this MOU is not to pursue a merger or pursue a sales tax hike."

Making it specifically clear to anyone and everyone that the MOU agreement between HART and PSTA is not being used to pursue a merger or a sales tax hike is not unreasonable. It is the right thing to do that builds trust not skepticism.

Otherwise Commissioner Long and her cohorts will be coming to Hillsborough County again to sell their regionalism agenda.

The sovereignty of HART [and PSTA] must be protected to maintain their credibility.

Most importantly, the local taxpayers must be protected.