Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Local group says many don't know proposed transit tax would expand Pinellas bus system

A PSTA diesel-electric SmartBus awaits passengers. Enhanced bus service is part of Greenlight Pinellas’ plan, but an unscientific survey found it’s not well known.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2009)

A PSTA diesel-electric SmartBus awaits passengers. Enhanced bus service is part of Greenlight Pinellas’ plan, but an unscientific survey found it’s not well known.

With less than eight months remaining before Pinellas voters decide whether to support a tax increase for bus and rail, a St. Petersburg-based group's survey has found that most voters don't know the details of the proposal.

Called Greenlight Pinellas, the proposed transit plan would raise the county's sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, bringing in revenue to increase bus service by 65 percent and build 24 miles of light rail between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. But an unscientific survey of 1,600 registered voters in Pinellas conducted by the group People's Budget Review found most respondents were familiar only with the rail portion of the plan.

"There's almost a unilateral focus on light rail," said Aaron Dietrich, an organizer with the group who, along with several others, continued to survey bus riders on Wednesday morning at a station on 70th Avenue N.

A coalition of neighborhood groups, civic groups and union members, the People's Budget Review is primarily funded and organized by the Florida Public Service Union, which represents 1,200 workers in St. Petersburg. The group is not taking a position on Greenlight Pinellas — at least not yet — Dietrich said, but many of its survey questions cast the proposal in a positive light.

Distributed via Facebook and email, the group's survey did not target people of different backgrounds or likely voters. Most of its respondents were older, white residents, and a majority were male.

Overall, 57 percent of respondents said they would vote in favor of Greenlight Pinellas, while 30 percent were opposed and 13 percent were unsure.

When asked whether they were aware that the plan called for more bus service, 52 percent reported never hearing anything about that part of the proposal.

"There is definitely some ground to be made up to get out the word," said Don Ewing, a leader of Yes for Greenlight, the main group advocating for the referendum's passage.

Ewing said Pinellas residents might be more familiar with rail plans because the region has been debating the merits of rail, in one form or another, since at least 2010, when voters in Hillsborough rejected a referendum that would have raised the sales tax to pay for rail, an expanded bus system and road improvements. The following year, Gov. Rick Scott rejected federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, a proposal that many continue to confuse with Pinellas' plans for a light rail system.

"I would say people are aware of Greenlight peripherally, but need to be given the facts of the plan," Ewing said. "That's the whole point of the campaign."

To Barbara Haselden, who leads the opposition group No Tax for Tracks, too much public money already has been spent on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's education campaign. Last year, the agency spent more than $400,000 on branding and messaging. This year, it has allocated roughly the same amount to spread the word about Greenlight Pinellas in a campaign that opponents see as deeply biased.

"I don't see how we can come to the conclusion that not enough has not been done," Haselden said.

The proposed bus expansion promises to decrease rider wait times and redraw routes for the first time in more than two decades.

Currently, along most PSTA routes, buses arrive once an hour. But under the agency's new plan, buses would run every 15 minutes on weekdays and weekends along major corridors like U.S. 19 and Ulmerton Road. On most nights, service on these routes would run until midnight.

Local roads that are slightly less busy, such as Belcher Road, would see buses arriving every 15 or 30 minutes on weekdays, with longer wait times — up to an hour — on weekends.

The plans also call for four bus routes from Pinellas to Tampa International Airport and to Tampa's downtown area. Two of the routes would pick up passengers in midcounty, while the other two would cater to residents in the northern and southern parts of the county.

For residents in North Pinellas, transit officials are proposing a bus rapid transit route on McMullen-Booth Road and an increase in the number of "flex" buses — a fleet of 10-seat minibuses that will circulate through Palm Harbor, East Lake and Oldsmar.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

Local group says many don't know proposed transit tax would expand Pinellas bus system 03/26/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 11:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas sees spike in infant deaths from unsafe sleeping, and advocates are concerned

    Health

    The reports from the Department of Children and Families are tragic: A Pinellas County mother falls asleep on a recliner during an early morning feeding and wakes to find one of her 3-month-old twins unresponsive. Another finds her 6-month-old daughter lying still, a blanket over her head. Another infant is found wedged …

    Advocates are looking to step up their public information efforts this year after reports show a spike in sleep-related infant deaths in Pinellas County. [iStockphoto.com]
  2. Kellyanne Conway warns of health care spin, but then delivers her own in Miami

    Blogs

    On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

    White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway is welcomed by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-District 105, at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser on Tuesday night.
  3. Sign up for our new daily News at Noon email newsletter

    News

    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.

  4. New poll shows tight St. Pete mayor's race

    Blogs

    A new poll shows a tight race between former mayor Rick Baker and Mayor Rick Kriseman, currently engaged in the most expensive mayoral race in St. Petersburg history. 

    Former Mayor Rick Baker answers a question during the mayoral candidate forum at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday. Mayor Rick Kriseman is in the foreground.
  5. Review: Mark Bowden's 'Hue 1968' a gripping, and timely, history

    Books

    More than 40 years after it ended, America's war in Vietnam is still contentious, still misunderstood, and fast slipping into the fog of history.

     On Feb. 15, 1968, U.S. Marines carry out an assault on Dong Ba Tower in Hue, South Vietnam. In the battle for the tower, six men died and 50 were wounded.