Friday, August 28, 2015

The Four Forty Four - Much more than just a bus route

 St. Petersburg, Fl.
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog

Wednesday was one of those rare days when I actually felt bad for the PSTA Board. Four bus routes were on the chopping block.

The PSTA Board room was nearly full.

Public hearings are often emotional when they deal with subjects that directly affect people's lives. This one really tugged at your heartstrings.

Speaker after speaker labored to get to the podium on crutches, walkers and in wheel chairs. Some spoke for others in attendance since it was just too difficult for them to speak in person.

Each told of how much the 444 bus route means to them. They used words like freedom, dignity and independence.

Others spoke of the 444 as their lifeline to get to and from work. Some had been riding the 444 for years.

Eliminating the 444 would disrupt their lives perhaps end their independence.

These were real people, with real fears and real tears.

The 444 bus route is the least used of all the PSTA routes. The route has just over 20 borders a day.

It runs through Pinellas Park and stops at the Wal-Mart on US 19. It is not a particularly efficient route as it meanders around. Getting back to one's original starting point can often take in access of an hour. However, that inconvenience pales into comparison with the benefits to a small group of riders.

The 444 has been on the chopping block before, but this time with PSTA facing a real budget crisis, and it looked like the 444 was doomed.

The PSTA administration is looking at a number of options, including conversations with UBER but the 444 riders didn't seem to be buying it.

In the end, PSTA Board was moved and saved the 444 for the moment.

They ask for more information about the options 444 riders will have and for an improved plan to make the riders more aware of their options. However, they also indicated that the days of the 444 are probably numbered as the PSTA evolves a new public transportation plan.

There are a lot of tough days ahead at the PSTA and lot more stories from people whose very existence depends on public transportation.

We all need to listen closely. When you don't depend on public transportation, it is easy to not appreciate how important it is to those who do need it.

The PSTA administration and the Board must come up real, sensible plans and when they do we, the voters, must make sure the funding is there to support those plans.

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1 comment:

  1. Public transit is simply another welfare/redistribution scheme. We all know that those who need financial assistance have access to many taxpayer paid programs through local, state and federal redistributors. There are currently about 180 means-tested welfare programs including food, housing, medical care and education. These programs cost taxpayers about $1 Trillion a year and do not include most of the costs of public transit.
    Public transit in low density/low ridership areas such as Pinellas County is one of the least efficient welfare programs. Figure out the capital and operating costs of moving 20 riders a day on a bus - any bus (although most PSTA buses are capable of accommodating 50+ riders, the average occupancy is 8 riders).
    "Route 444 averages 41 riders a day. Board member Mark Deighton pointed out that at a cost of $363,000 a year, the PSTA is spending about $8,840 for each rider."
    I suspect this is only the operating cost and does not include the amortized capital costs.

    I suspect those 41 riders are actually 20 riders taking round trips because transit agencies count boardings, not unique riders. If so, that brings the cost/actual rider to $18,150/year. Whether it is $8.840 or $18,150, it is too much and it reflects the inept management of PSTA by politicians and incompetent management personnel.
    Anyone with a SNAP card could be given a PSTA debit card good for two rides a day using Uber or a taxi (with restrictions of course). That alone would save taxpayers from the insanity of paying $363,000 per year for such low utilization of assets we pay for.

    Very few people choose to utilize public transit because it is more convenient,
    more cost effective or the best way for them to get to their destination.​ This
    is especially true with PSTA and likely true in almost any other​ county of
    similar size in the US.

    Some people ride ​PSTA ​buses because they cannot afford private transportation and they should be given some sort of consideration such as reduced fares​​, discounts for
    weekly and monthly passes on a means tested basis (i.e. those who qualify for SNAP
    benefits might qualify for such fares).​ The minimum fare should be no less than 25%
    of operating costs. Free rides should be made available on a very limited basis​ and only offered to​ those who can prove the need for financial assistance.

    Those who do not qualify for financial assistance​ and choose to ride PSTA should be
    required to pay at least 50% of operating costs with no discounts for passes. Taxpayers pay for 100% of capital costs and should not have to pay any more than 50% of operating costs to subsidize those who do not meet the requirements for financial assistance.

    Those of us who do not use public transit (98% of Pinellas residents) are paying too much for too little. Our local, state and federal taxes support public transit. We do not object to helping people in need, we are very opposed to seeing our tax dollars wasted every day.

    Try that formula and see what kind of ridership you end up with. You will obviously lose those who are simply looking for an almost free ride, mostly paid for by taxpayers who do not utilize public transit (98% of Pinellas residents). In fact, the same goes for the​ ​entire country - less than 2% utilize public transit and ​ridership ​would be even ​low​er if fares were​ ​based on financial need.​