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 or”. 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.

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