Trust issues – beach town is hiring intern to verify PSTA’s ridership claims. Times gives new bus line a tongue bath

The City of St. Pete Beach is hiring! While that isn’t noteworthy in and of itself, what is noteworthy is the job description: “collect and help analyze transit usage data as a passenger on public transportation.” Not data from the city’s own popular and growing FreeBee microtransit system, but rather data from PSTA buses.

“The objective of the internship is to assist in collecting sample data and field observations of transit ridership and patterns within the city,” Michelle Gonzalez, Director of Community Development for the city told the Guardian in an email.

Public records and media reports show that the city has had a long and frustrating experience with PSTA, including “ignoring most of city’s requests, such as a desire for bus ridership counts.”

One month before PSTA’s SunRunner bus line began operation, TBNWeekly reported that St. Pete Beach “city officials will welcome PSTA’s new SunRunner bus rapid transit service with less-than-enthusiastic inquisitiveness when it rides onto the island in late October.”

The arrival of the Sunrunner has not been popular among residents, according to mayoral candidate Adrian Petrila. “They don’t need a traffic study to see how it has increased congestion,” Petrila said. “People can see how few people ride the SunRunner.”

Time will tell if the city will focuses solely on verifying Sunrunner ridership, or ridership on all PSTA routes in the city. The Central Avenue Trolley, the Suncoast Beach Trolley and route 90 also operate in the city.

City Commissioner Melinda Pletcher has been a vocal critic of the PSTA and has in the past spoken about how hard it is to get ridership number from PSTA. Pletcher also voted against renewal of the Suncoast Beach Trolley Agreement for fiscal year 2023.

Now city staff appear to also have trust issues with PSTA, and are going to compare their own ridership counts with the stop by stop counts provided by PSTA. That is – if PSTA will provide them.

Coincidentally, a citizen effort to independently verify PSTA ridership is also underway. It will have its organizational meeting on February 28th. Volunteers will ride the Sunrunner (and possibly other PSTA routes) to document ridership counts, and also document what they see in general.

The citizen effort was prompted in part by the unironic “everything is awesome” tongue bath of an article that the Tampa Bay Times published last week on the “success” of the Sunrunner. The Times seemed unable to locate (or at least failed to report on the presence of) a single homeless or mentally unstable person on the Sunrunner, something which riders often observe.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

The Transit Tongue Bath – the Tampa Bay Times on the left, PSTA’s Sunrunner line on the right