Pinellas Transit Agency meeting: talk of “reducing our carbon footprint” followed by support for Grand Prix auto racing CarbonFest

Today’s PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) board meeting was a resplendent exercise in flattery, hypocrisy, corruption, blood and gore (meeting video). Yes, all five.

The first task that the PSTA board took on, within the first minute of the meeting video, was to honor former board member and current Pinellas County Commissioner René Flowers. She was flattered extensively by PSTA CEO Brad Miller, and also given a free lifetime bus pass.

However, no explanation or comment was provided for why taxpayer funds and and PSTA resources are used for the unelected PSTA CEO to flatter and provide gifts to elected officials. These are the same elected officials who are supposed to exercise oversight over Miller and other PSTA staff.

“If we are committed to looking at reducing our carbon footprint,” Flowers said, “then public transportation is the way to do it with electric buses.”

However, the latest available figures from the US Energy Information Agency show that about “74% of Florida’s total electricity net generation” comes from natural gas, which contains carbon. Therefore, it unclear how switching to electric buses accomplishes Flowers’ goal.

We emailed Commissioner Flowers and asked: “what basis do you have for your claim. Any data?”

“Thank you for your email,” Flowers responded from her iPad. “Please feel free to review any federal reports relative to a carbon neutral future.” Flowers provided no data, only her conclusory averment.

PSTA’s “Sustainable Strategic Plan” appears to have as a goal to “minimize PSTA’s environmental impact and carbon footprint.” Specifically, the way that PSTA wants to accomplish that (and reducing pollutants) is through “continued removal of diesel engines from the fleet in favor of diesel-hybrid or electric buses” (bold-facing added).

Immediately after the “reducing our carbon footprint” and “the way to do it with electric buses” comments were made, a presentation followed on the upcoming Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The event features races that utilize non-electric internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles that certainly are contrary to the spirit of PSTA’s “Sustainable Strategic Plan” mentioned before.

The Grand Prix is essentially a CarbonFest, an event that literally produces tons of carbon dioxide and pollutants that would not be produced if the event was not held.

Thus it seems that PSTA’s stated goals of minimizing the “carbon footprint” conflicts with other goals, such a bringing money-spending visitors to the area.

“Public hearings are extremely important,” Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers said in his comments. “Not only for the issues at hand, but also for gaining interest, involvement [and] input from the residents.”

Eggers was referencing comments made earlier in the meeting by Barb Haselden and Sharon Calvert, two Tampa Bay area activists who separately complained about the lack of hearings on lane elimination on US 19 (video of their comments). Calvert Haselden and Calvert have been heavily involved for 15 years in opposing sales tax hikes to fund transit, as well generally pointing out the negative effects of transit, such as causing rather than relieving congestion, bringing crime and grime to neighborhoods, and other ill effects.

Haselden also claimed that there is an effort underway to put in another Sunrunner, this time on 34ths Street, a.k.a Alt. 19, and that the effort is deliberately being hidden from public view. Haselden pointed to how official presentations have gone from mentioning BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) to not mentioning BRT, and said that they are being “scrubbed” of any mention of BRT.

Last month, we broke the news that PSTA’s Sunrunner BRT experienced a 43% ridership decline in one month after fares were implemented on October 1st. The current dismal monthly ridership numbers in this fiscal year are:

Oct-23 — 55,713
Nov-23 — 51,981
Dec 23 — 53,894

In addition, many riders are simply using the Sunrunner as an extended parking shuttle to avoid paying for expensive parking downtown or at the beach. PSTA’s efforts are therefore not “getting people out of their cars,” despite PSTA’s claims to the contrary.

Despite a board decision last August “to implement full fares” on the Sunrunner effective October 1, 2023, PSTA continues to offer “fare free” days. It did so for this past weekend for the Localtopia event. We will have a separate article on the topic of “fare free day” to artificially inflate the Sunrunner ridership, and how PSTA apparently is ignoring the board decision to charge fares.

PSTA Board member Vince Cocks provided a vivid account of riding the Sunrunner of “Localtopia Day.” Cocks related how a fight took place in which a person was “sucker-punched” in the nose.

“I mean, he whacked him,” Cocks said. “It sounded like his nose cracked,” resulting in “a mess” with a “lot of blood.” First responders were called.

“Thank you for that colorful description of that incident,” a disgusted yet amused Gina Driscoll, PSTA Board Chair, said in response.

The purpose of Cocks’ remarks were to commend PSTA staff for how they handled the incident, but in making them, he also highlighted the ugly reality of riding today’s public transit.

Pinellas County Commissioner Chris Latvala
Pinellas County Commissioner Chris Latvala

Approximately half the meeting consisted of bickering between board members, arguments over choices of words such as whether PSTA should properly be described as a business or not. Unelected board appointee Joshua Shulman even twice used the word “dangerous” to describe Commissioner Brian Scott’s analysis involving a Localtopia partnership with PSTA.

“I guess if I say something I shouldn’t say,” Pinellas County Commissioner Chris Latvala said approximately halfway through the bickering, “somebody will throw something at me.”

Latvala then proceeded to express opposition to PSTA providing free rides for people attending Tampa Bay Rays games, indicating that baseball game attendees are hardly people without means.

In a year of having to cut their next budget, how much longer can PSTA keep up appearances?

As always….the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.