Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Manipulating the Polls

The Tampa Tribune today published the results of a transportation poll in an article they titled Hillsborough poll shows support for all transit options that reported
Also strongly favored at 73 percent was increasing transit options to include toll lanes on interstates, a high-speed ferry from southern Hillsborough to MacDill Air Force Base, and a light rail system.
After speaking with Eric Johnson at county center, the Eye found out it wasn't the county who was publicizing the results of their poll today.  It wasn't the county who handed the results to Salinero.  It wasn't even Salinero of the Tribune asking the county for the poll results.  We are told the county had planned to publicize the results at next weeks Transportation Policy Leadership Group meeting.

It was Kevin Thurman, a paid lobbyist as Executive Director of the pro transit group Connect Tampa Bay, who requested the poll results from the county.  It was Kevin Thurman who handed the results off to Mike Salinero.  Since that information was not pointed out in Salinero's article, readers probably thought Salinero got the poll results directly from the county or Transportation Policy Leadership Group.  We wonder how the Transportation Policy Leadership Group must feel about a poll they sanctioned being released to the media before they have had a chance to review and comment on the results.

The subtitle of the print version of Salinero's article states
Poll shows 82%of people in Hillsborough favor more bus routes, 73% like light rail. 
What was left out of that subtitle was that 81% favor improving and maximizing our existing assets first (see findings below). 

The handling of how this poll was released to the media forced those in the County who sanctioned the poll to speak with Salinero for some clarification.
The poll, conducted May 4-8, was light on specifics (emphasis mine), and that was by design, said Eric Johnson, the county’s director of strategic planning and grant management. Johnson said the transportation policy group wanted an early indication of whether the public supports the county’s quest to improve transportation on a broad scale. Later polls will get more specific on projects and funding.
“Basically what I think comes out of this is we really validated the people agree with our approach,” Johnson said. “We’re not at the point of describing specific projects; we’re not at the point of asking, ‘If you like these projects are you willing to pull out your wallets and pay for them?’”
So the poll was intended to validate an "approach" the county was using to get to a future conclusion on specific projects but the Tribune article pushes the narrative that 73% like light rail. This was the actual content question in the poll:
Poll question regarding "innovative" transportation solutions
And the Key finding was:
Poll result reflecting support for "innovative" transportation solutions
Some respondents must have picked up on lumping all these solution into one question because this poll question had the highest number who opposed, almost 25% disagreed.  Did the Tribune report that finding?
Largest opposition was question including light rail
The question was regarding "innovative" transportation solutions and then stated various options as examples.  It FORCED anyone answering the question to agree with the statement that residents in Hillsborough county "want it all" even if they may only agree with one or two of the options stated.  Talk about a leading question.  

Innovative transportation solutions could also include building out more MetroRapid BRT's, reducing regulations and enabling ride sharing services like Uber, Lyft to compete in Hillsborough County or allowing Jitney taxis or eliminating the $50 minimum limousine charge or opening up the skies to jet packs, flying cars and deliveries by drones. It could be embracing autonomous vehicles or the next new technology that becomes available. 

The poll also included this question:
Poll question regarding adding capacity where needed
Why does the question include a statement that widening roads is "more costly and takes more time" That appears to be an editorial open ended negative description. Roads are more costly than what?    95-98% of us use the roads everyday, including the buses. Light rail, the most subsidized mode of transit, isn't costly? Roads take more time than what? Than light rail that takes decades, if ever, to build out?  

Remember the media previously reported a concern from transit supporters about "leading" poll questions in their report about a poll done a couple of months ago showing opposition to Greenlight Pinellas.  We previously posted here the Tribune's report regarding that poll:
A new poll on the Greenlight Pinellas campaign to build a light-rail system and put more buses on the road has sparked controversy about whether the survey misled residents. 
But transit supporters say the questions written by McKalip were designed to skew the results (emphasis mine).
Maybe it's selective concern about "leading" poll questions.

The polling company the county used for this poll, Florida Opinion Research, is one that has done transportation polls before. They did a poll for Polk County on the way to Polk County commissioners voting this year to put a transportation sales tax increase referendum for roads and buses on the November ballot.

As reported, those polled were 1100 "residents" of Hillsborough county.  The poll attempted to capture both home and workplace zip codes to help find out results from those areas the county has already deemed "work centers" and the poll did include cell phone users.  They specifically avoided targeting voters because how to fund any of these options was not included in what they deem is this more broad based poll.

Improving bus routes did poll the highest at 82% but it also had the highest percentage of those who were unsure or refused to answer.
Result of question inferred to be about expanding bus service
The second highest support at 81% was this poll question regarding maximizing our existing assets by improving traffic flow and intersection improvements. For all the "noise" about Millenials do not want to drive and want to use transit, the Key Findng of this poll is that Millenials favored this option the most.
Highest support for maximizing existing assets is with Millenials
Also included in the Key Findings for this question is what we have stated previously about ensuring we maximize our existing infrastructure FIRST.

What information do the results of this poll provide?  Not much except there is support for transportation improvements but any specifics are unclear.

Public out reach from the Transportation Leadership Policy Group will begin soon and more polls will be forthcoming.  Next polling needs more information regarding specific improvements - the financials, the cost/benefit, the return on investment, timeframes, ridership, fiscal sustainability in the long term, will it help reduce traffic congestion for each separate option.

Different transportation solutions or options should NOT be lumped into a single poll question.  Each option should stand on it's own financial, return on investment, and realistic timeframe merits. Those being polled should be able to differentiate and answer each option separately.

Maybe next time the Transportation Leadership Policy Group, who sanctions the polls, will get to review the results before a lobbyist or the media reports their spin.

But the "let's do it all, something for everyone" comprehensive approach was tried before in Hillsborough County with the Community Investment Tax.  We know how that turned out.  Do we want to go down that path again?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Money Can't Buy Me Love

The Political Action Committees (PAC's) to support and oppose the Greenlight Pinellas light rail referendum are required to file their campaign reports of their donors, donations and expenditures each month. 

The pro Greenlight Pinellas PAC, Friends of Greenlight, has raised almost a half million dollars. Their filings can be found at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website here.  

Who are their heavy hitter donors?
  • Duke Energy - $50K - the seed money for Yes for Greenlight
  • SEIU Florida Public Services Union - $2.5K (the same group we previously posted funds the Progressive Peoples Budget Review organization)
  • Pinellas Realtor Organization - $10K
  • Tampa Bay Partnership - over $18K of in kind Administrative, Accounting Services and Office Supplies (this special interest organization was the symbiotic twin of pro rail PAC Moving Hillsborough Florida in 2010, pushed to create TBARTA and apparently coordinates their legislative agenda with taxpayer funded TBARTA)
  • National Association of Realtors with an address out of Chicago, IL - $245K (the Chicago way comes to Pinellas...)
  • Tampa Bay Rays - $25K (they're looking for a new taxpayer funded stadium but apparently can blow $25K on a train)
  • Carlton Fields - Tampa - $10K (this law firm helped lead the failed rail effort in Hillsborough)
  • Baycare - $25K (healthcare wanting to take more out of our wallets?)
  • Raymond James - $50K (aren't they planning to move to Pasco?)
  • Sykes in Tampa -  $50K (Sykes was the largest donor to the pro rail PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward in Hillsborough in 2010) 
  • TECO Energy - $20K
There are some individuals that contributed, mostly nominal amounts, including a number of donors from Tampa who can't vote in Pinellas but support the "cause". Many of the donors, whether individual or corporate, are associated with the Tampa Bay Partnership.

Does this look eerily familiar? It is. The 2010 money is the same as the 2014 money. These corporations and organizations must be doing very well today.  They keep throwing tens of thousands of dollars towards their "hopes" of getting a train.  Do they have money to burn or will they benefit?

Friends of Greenlight spent money on direct mail, consulting, yard signs, video production and their new PR firm. They had to drop their former PR firm Tucker Hall who was already representing PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas campaign......

The opposition PAC, No Tax For Tracks, campaign filing can be found here.  No Tax For Tracks has raised about $30.5K.  Besides the vast difference in the amounts each PAC has raised, the other big difference is that ALL donations to No Tax For Tracks are from individuals and they are donors who live in Pinellas and can vote. 
David vs Goliath
We'll continue following the Money "Train" and report this information as the election cycle heats up. This David vs Goliath will be worth watching (again).

But like the old Beatles song - "Money Can't Buy Me Love"

Monday, May 12, 2014

Greenlight Pinellas: Deception, Skepticism and Abuse of Taxpayer Monies Continues

The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce sent this letter to PSTA regarding Greenlight Pinellas.

The letter begins by stating the Chamber's support for Greenlight and continues that there is a need to pursue improvements in the County's transportation system. But what exactly does the "high expectations" of our international visitors mean? Did the Chamber survey  international visitors and find these visitors have an overwhelming demand for a $2.5 Billion train to take them from downtown St. Pete to downtown Clearwater?  Or are these international visitors demanding improved bus service? How many international visitors did they survey? No matter how many international visitors come to Pinellas, the huge capital costs for Greenlight, especially for light rail, will be paid for by US/local taxpayers not international visitors.  

Then the Chamber letter becomes even less clear.

The Chamber admits that some of it's members have valid concerns about PSTA.  Well PSTA did spend over $4 million of taxpayer money on their Alternatives Analysis and there are still many questions left unanswered. Has PSTA been good stewards of your tax dollars in the past? How confident are you that PSTA will be good stewards of billions of new tax dollars headed their way?

Then it appears the Chamber "hopes" Greenlight Pinellas has done it's proper research regarding what is actually needed, the county's population growth and that Greenlight Pinellas is not being swayed by politics.  

The Chamber must have missed our previous post about Greenlight's misleading population growth numbers Greenlight was touting. Greenlight Pinellas spent $400K last year lobbying politicians and targeting specific groups to get the Pinellas County commissioners to put the referendum on the ballot. Greenlight Pinellas is spending at least another $400K this year advocating for the initiative and is currently being investigated by the FDOT about these questionable and ethically challenged expenditures. None of that is political sway?

Did the Chamber also miss the fact that high cost light rail does nothing to reduce traffic congestion? Certainly there are smart folks at the Chambers and elsewhere in Pinellas who understand there's no need to waste taxpayer dollars on a $2.5 BILLION train to improve Pinellas County's bus service. Improving bus service can be implemented at a fraction of the cost of light rail.

Proper research would have easily found the truth about Pinellas County's future population growth. Proper research would find studies indicating light rail does not reduce traffic congestion, that it costs too much, benefits too few and ends up hurting bus service. 

This Chamber appears somewhat skeptical of Greenlight Pinellas - and they should be...because the deception of Greenlight Pinellas continues.

Greenlight Pinellas has spent more taxpayer dollars retooling and scrubbing their website. They conspicuously scrubbed their website of the picture below which advertised their taxpayer funded trinkets they were giving away. Do you think that was done because Greenlight is now being investigated for how they have and are wastefully spending taxpayer dollars?
Display of trinkets now scrubbed from Greenlight Pinellas webpage
Greenlight Pinellas and their supporters know that high cost light rail is so toxic they are now deceptively attempting to portray the plan as a bus improvement plan. Scroll thru the banners at the top of their homepage. Below is the ONLY reference to a rail or train that is made and it includes a nebulous false statement.  
Banner of new webpage with false statement that rail will reduce congestion
The FACT is rail does NOT reduce traffic congestion.  Even the Washington Post reported 
...over at Atlantic Cities, researchers have had trouble finding evidence that urban light-rail systems really do curtail traffic congestion.
The other point is that mass-transit systems can lessen road traffic, but only if they're part of a broader shift by a city to move to denser development. 
Did PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas not do their proper research or are they simply ignoring the results of actual studies?  Did PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas miss or ignore any of this type of information Light Rail Doesn’t Work?  

PSTA CEO Brad Miller, stated at an event last summer when asked why rail is part of the Greenlight Pinellas plan, that rail is included for "economic development".  Study after study reflects trains are NOT for mobility and congestion relief - they are to enable transit-oriented development, which most of the time is also taxpayer subsidized.  Is that why so many special interests developers support Greenlight?  Could this be why the Pinellas Realtor's association gave the pro rail Friends of Greenlight PAC $250K?  Follow the money!

We have previously stated that light rail cannibalizes bus service and takes ridership from previous bus riders not from those driving their cars.  That can result in bus service being cut which negatively impacts the lower income who depend on the bus to get to work.  Atlantic Cities blog posted the conclusion of research done
Growing rail shares in the light rail corridors have mainly come from buses and the evidence for light rail reducing car use is less clear. This latter finding is of particular significance, given that a major justification for investment in light rail rather than bus schemes is their presumed ability to bring about major modal shift by attracting substantial numbers of car users. 
With that in mind, the work still underscores some important lessons. For starters, it offers a sound piece of advice: cities considering a light rail system should strongly consider whether improving the local bus system would be cheaper and just as effective (emphasis mine).
Greenlight Pinellas deception continues with "their" description of "Preparing for Two Futures".  Where's the train? Note there is NO mention that if the 14% sales tax increase passed, the taxpayers are on the hook to pay for a $2.5 BILLION light rail train and to sustain it's operating and maintenance costs into perpetuity.  In addition, light rail systems must be replaced or incur major rehab in about 25 years.  Where is that money going to come from?  The US currently has about $78 BILLION in backlogged rail system major maintenance today and we haven't figured out how to pay for that.

Why would Greenlight Pinellas not highlight light rail as being part of their plan - it's a huge cost.  Is light rail that toxic?  Does Greenlight Pinellas think everyone is a low information voter in Pinellas? 

Of course PSTA resorts to threats of bus service cuts if the referendum fails, and it is very likely to fail.  PSTA said the same thing when they voted to raise property taxes 30% just a few short years ago.

If PSTA truly wanted to improve their bus service, then PSTA should have proposed a common sense, fiscally responsible plan to do just that at a fraction of high cost light rail. 

Instead, it's all about getting federal tax dollars. However, once federal dollars, with all the strings attached, are taken for rail boondoggles, it's like Hotel California:  you can check in but you can never check out without paying back the feds all the money that was taken.

Federal dollars are dwindling and the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is bankrupt. Greenlight Pinellas plans to get over 36% of the light rail capital costs from the bankrupted HTF - your federal gas tax dollars. How likely is that? If all the federal dollars don't come thru, aren't the local taxpayers on the hook for the gap? There are no guarantees of getting any federal dollars.

In addition, Sunbeam Times blog just reported the suspected misuse by PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas of Federal DHS grant money that is supposed to be used to help protect transportation infrastructure.
The DHS Transit Security grants were used to create three television ads (scripts at bottom and youtube video above). The three ads separately feature happy bus riders and extoll the virtues of the PSTA bus system’s link to technology, convenience and environmental friendliness. Each ad ends the same way: “And PSTA is working to make it easier to get around the county. To learn more, visit Greenlight Pinellas.com or PSTA.net”. The end of each ad features a Greenlight Pinellas logo, PSTA CARES logo and disclaimer indicating the ad was paid for by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
These ads are totally misleading. They are not educating the public about transit security and how to look for suspicious packages, they are advocacy ads asking the public to go to the Greenlight Pinellas website "to learn more".

Pinellas county voters and taxpayers deserve honesty, clarity and accountability, not systematic deception and abuse of the use of their tax dollars by PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas.

PSTA needs an immediate overhaul and new management, not another cent of taxpayer money!

Vote No on Greenlight Pinellas in November and send PSTA packing back to the drawing board.