Sunday, January 21, 2024

PSTA Needs a Housecleaning! Rep. Linda Chaney's PSTA Local Bill HB1487 Is A "START"

PSTA CEO Brad Miller misused Federal funds
Why is he still at PSTA?

PSTA needs an internal housekeeping.

State Rep. Linda Chaney;s PSTA local bill HB1487 is a start. The bill was approved by the Pinellas County local delegation on November 29, 2023. 

Chaney's bill is a first step to bring better governance, more transparency and accountability to the mismanaged transit agency. The bill also begins to address the flawed process PSTA uses to ram road diets thru without proper public engagement, without public support and with little accountability.

We have posted (search the Eye using PSTA) ad nauseum about PSTA's malfeasance, financial mismanagement, fiscal distress, dishonesty, lack of transparency, lack of accountability and PSTA's misuse of federal funds. 

PSTA's CEO Brad Miller got caught misusing federal funds in 2014. Miller used taxpayer federal transit security funds for a marketing campaign supporting the Greenlight Pinellas rail tax boondoggle referendum thankfully defeated in 2014.

Miller was forced to hastily hand back $345K to the feds or be subject to federal criminal and civil charges. As we reported in August 2014, the then PSTA Board voiced unanimous support for Miller and circled the wagons to protect him.

Miller was never fired or held accountable for violating federal law with his illegal use of federal dollars. Instead the PSTA Board continued to hand Miller pay raises including a large 8.4% raise in 2022 funded by one-time federal COVID money. 

PSTA depleted their one-time COVID money on big administrative pay raises handed out during the pandemic that are now baked into PSTA's future budgets. Ironically, then Miller told the Tampa Bay Business Journal "Now we're in a situation where we'll be in a deficit." 

PSTA lied to the Federal Transit Administration in their federal grant request for the SunRunner that St. Pete Beach was financially supporting the project. PSTA never even held a public meeting about the project in St. Pete Beach. St. Pete Beach never supported the SunRunner project and the St. Pete Beach city council passed a resolution formally stating their opposition.

PSTA also lied to the Federal Transit Administration in their federal grant request when they stated the SunRunner fare box recovery would be 44%. Instead, PSTA offered "free to the rider" aka 0% fare box recovery for the first year. It took the Sheriff to force PSTA to impose fares last October due to issues caused by transients riding the SunRunner.  

PSTA lied again when they stated the SunRunner would not syphon riders from the existing Central Avenue Trolley (CAT) that runs along the same transit corridor. PSTA claimed SunRunner riders would be new PSTA riders and would not plunder the CAT route.

The CAT ridership declined almost 60% down to less than half of what it was a year ago before the SunRunner.  

The SunRunner did plunder the CAT ridership which caused fiscal distress and cuts to the CAT route last year.

PSTA holds public hearings when they propose changes or cuts to their routes or changes to fares. PSTA holds NO public hearings when they want to remove existing road infrastructure for expensive transit services. Today they can get away with that. 

For PSTA to receive a Federal transit capital grant to build SunRunner like services, PSTA has to impose road diets for dedicated bus lanes. PSTA could have achieved basically the same service level at much lower cost using traffic signalization instead of road diets. 

But PSTA wanted those federal dollars because once a transit agency gets them it's easier to get more.

PSTA did not tell the public they need a new long term funding source to operate and maintain the SunRunner. Otherwise the operations and maintenance of the SunRunner is going to bleed PSTA's operating budget dry.

That reality has already struck. The SunRunner is causing financial stress on PSTA's operating budget. According to PSTA's FY24 operating budget, their expenses barely meet their revenues in 2024 and 2025. PSTA's expenses will surpass their revenues in 2026.....even as their property tax revenues have ballooned.

The SunRunner ridership has declined 43% since PSTA was forced to impose fares late last year. PSTA's overall fare box recovery is under 7%. Taxpayers are subsidizing over 93% of every PSTA rider's trip. That is unsustainable and a hefty price tag to pay for a ridership of about 2%.

Instead of looking at innovative ways to reduce their costs, PSTA has their planned SunRunner #2 underway that removes 2 general vehicle lanes of traffic on 34th Street S (US19) for bus lanes. 

Below is a letter Miller sent to FDOT District 7 Secretary David Gwynn on 4/5/2023. Per Miller, the 34th Street S project is a first step for going after another Federal transit capital grant to advance PSTA's SunRunner #2 along US19 to Clearwater. Remember the Feds require dedicated bus lanes for these capital grants and PSTA wants to pursue more of them.

PSTA's road diet projects are in direct conflict with Gov DeSantis's funded program to expand road capacity in the growing state of Florida. 

PSTA is ramming their road diets thru an undisciplined and flawed process that lacks community support by those impacted, lacks basic project management discipline and lacks accountability. This must stop!

PSTA, as structured today, has lost credibility and cannot be trusted. PSTA has been fiscally mismanaged, been dishonest, flat out lied, misused federal funds, never fired the person responsible for misusing those funds and has lacked proper oversight for years. 

PSTA needs better oversight and a housecleaning! 

That starts with Chaney's local PSTA bill HB1487.

Contact each Pinellas County local delegation member and voice your support for HB1487.

Stay Tuned....

1 comment:

  1. Nothing gets done without the permission of FDOT. This is about money, not transportation from the Feds. The state and the locals are addicted to Federal money. Money the Feds don't have and just print. We need reform at all levels. Under Trump's Sec of Transportation these projects had to have a TIF(property tax growth) revenue stream. Follow the money and donor contributions from transit and transportation PACs to the Gov and legislature. There is always a reason.