PSTA exec wants to “dabble in light rail” despite 62% hard NO from Pinellas county voters in 2014

PSTA executive Abishek Dayal said in this Tampa Bay Business Journal (TBBJ) interview that he is “hoping the BRT project spawns some other interesting projects in the region. That could be extensions of BRT or even dabbling in light rail. We’ll see if [light rail] is still a dirty word after the BRT project.” BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit, and PSTA’s Sunrunner BRT project that he was referring to was completed in October of 2022, two years behind schedule.

PSTA executive Abishek Dayal

Dayal’s light rail supportive comments in that 2018 articles have received renewed attention, and not just because Pinellas voters already in 2014 provided a hard no to light rail. That’s when 62% voted against the Greenlight Pinellas tax hike that was on the ballot that year.

The spotlight is also Dayal’s comments because they can be seen in an entirely new light now that the BRT project he spoke of (the Sunrunner) is completed. It emerged last week that a longtime Hillsborough light rail advocate is now advising PSTA CEO Brad Miller. That advice is being paid for by the same Pinellas taxpayers who solidly kicked light rail to the curb at the ballot box in 2014.

Six days ago, we asked Dayal via email about his 2018 statements and asked in bold letters to “please confirm receipt of this email, even if you don’t plan to answer further.” We also texted him and left a message on this voicemail to inform him of our email. Dayal did not respond to our questions.

However, since the time of our inquiry, Dayal did issue a mellifluous but meaningless statement in another matter. He did so after PSTA CEO Brad Miller asked him via email to comment on the brewing scandal involving a special privilege bus stop for the PSTA board member Pat Gerard.

Two key questions we asked Dayal were “was that PSTA’s official position at the time – that it hoped that the SunRunner would result in ‘dabbling in light rail?’ Is it PSTA’s position currently?” Although Dayal did not respond, by law PSTA must respond to public records requests. Therefore, we made a public records request to PSTA for:

  • records showing what light rails plans or proposals PSTA has for Pinellas County.
  • record showing plans / proposals / brainstorming sessions / etc. to extend the Sunrunner, other than to the Pier [that is already being discussed]
  • records showing whether Mr. Dayal was made aware of the 62% defeat of Greenlight Pinellas in November 2018, before or after he was hired in April 2018.

PSTA responded that there were no records.

Playstation’s game “Hidden Agenda”
Note that it’s for “mature audiences” only, and voters are apparently not allowed in on the game.

It is notable that there no records exist showing, not even an email from his boss Brad Miller, that Dayal was affirmatively made aware that Pinellas County voters had solidly rejected light fail rail just 3.5 years before he began in his employment at PSTA. It is notable because prior to joining PSTA, Dayal served as director of project management for the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority, where he implemented Phoenix’s first light rail line.

We also asked PSTA for the following public records:

  • Records showing PSTA’s official position on whether light rail should be built or considered for construction in Pinellas County.
  • Records showing PSTA’s official position on whether it is, or believes it appropriate, to be “dabbling” (Mr. Dayal’s word) with light rail, BRT extensions, bus service, DART service or any other aspect of the transportation services it provides.

PSTA responded that also for this request, there were no records. Dayal is thus insinuating that light rail might be coming when PSTA has no plans for it. Such policy decisions are normally made by the PSTA board.

Dayal apparently doesn’t just want to “dabble” in light rail, he secretly dabbles in other PSTA matters, too.

Our article this past Saturday showed that Dayal lied when he claimed that an unnamed “passenger” had asked him to have PSTA add more bus stops along a specific stretch of PSTA route 65. In a draft email to his board, Miller wrote that the board member Pat Gerard had approached Dayal and asked for the stop to be added near her house, this after Gerard ceased to have driving privileges.

The damning admission that this person was in fact Gerard was removed from the final version of Miller’s email to the board after consultation with a longtime light rail advocate closely connected to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

In light of the October 2022 completion of the already failing SunRunner BRT, Dayal’s hopes for “dabbling in light rail” may be the way for PSTA to move on to a new “shiny object” to distract from the Sunrunner’s failure to meet PSTA’s already low ridership projections. The project that PSTA claims would reduce traffic congestion has in fact increased it, and residents are up in arms about that on the Nextdoor website. More about that in a future article.

The 2018 TBBJ article says “Dayal said he’ll continue to listen to critics.” Perhaps, but it is clearly provable so that “Dabbling Dayal” doesn’t respond to hard questions from reporters about his disregard for the voters, or the transit policy set by the PSTA board. Despite being the project manager, Dayal has not managed to dabble the Sunrunner into operating as he told the Tampa Bay Times it would.

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