Three months in to its fiscal year 2022, PSTA’s bus ridership year over year has declined another 20%, according to its own official reporting. PSTA, which is the taxpayer-funded Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, ended its fiscal year 2021 (FY2021) with ridership 46% lower than it was in FY2015.
The data thus shows that the ridership in FY2022 continues to plunge, and has not stabilized after the “COVID-related” plunge over the previous 18 months.
PSTA’s own year end operating statistics reports for FY2016 through FY2021 and YTD data for the current fiscal year show that it has thus lost 57% of its bus passengers in less than seven years. That’s 6 out 10 customers…gone.
However, spending of tax dollars at the troubled agency continues to rise sharply. PSTA’s total annual budget is $182 million for FY2022, an increase in spending of 114% in the last ten years.
Despite years of plunging ridership and increased spending, the 15 elected and appointed officials on the PSTA board unanimously passed the FY2022 budget last September. The board also approved the property tax millage rate remaining at 0.75 mills, the maximum allowed by state law. Current year spending is a 6.5% increase over the so-called “rollback rate,” which is the amount PSTA would need to collect the same amount of money as last year.
As noted above, the the ridership decline is accelerating and is now decreasing at twice the average rate over the last six years. The ridership decline is occurring despite PSTA in concert with others effectively giving away monthly bus passes to so-called “transportation disadvantaged” (TD) riders, as well as to local area students. These riders together account for just under 19% of PSTA’s riders so far in FY2022.
Predictably, passenger revenue is also plunging. “Farebox recovery” is the industry term for the percentage of operating expenses that are covered by passengers fares. The taxpayers pick up the rest of the operating costs, as well as all of the the capital costs (e.g. new buses).
PSTA’s farebox recovery dropped from 28% to 16% in the 5-year period from FY2012 to FY2017. It dropped to under 6% in FY2020, a year of COVID and free fares for about half the fiscal year, but remains in the high single digits in the current fiscal year.
Thus PSTA’s farebox recovery has dropped by approximately two thirds in the last 10 years. PSTA CEO Brad Miller, hired in 2011, has presided over the sinking ship during those 10 years.
In 2008, PSTA made this spectacularly erroneous ridership prediction which estimated a future ridership double that which actually materialized. Such forecasting failures aren’t mere mistakes, they done “accidentally on purpose” are used to spend tax dollars on boondoggles that enrich special interests.
“Today we are one step closer to a solution for the ever-growing problems of congestion and traffic in St. Petersburg in this corridor,” Brad Miller claimed without evidence at the unveiling of a new bus station last month. In fact, running increasingly empty buses all over Pinellas County doesn’t reduce traffic congestion. It increases congestion due to the empty rolling roadblocks that PSTA buses have become.
The costs of supporting the nation’s transit industry are rising, yet ridership is declining. Randal O’Toole last year called transit an “urban parasite,” arguing that there are much more cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to provide mobility. In Pinellas County, PSTA’s own data on cost and emissions per passenger mile show that its transit consumes more resources and does more harm to the environment than driving.
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