The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has long struggled to get more people to ride the bus, and now that it's happening, the agency is looking to raise fares and cut service to make up for a projected shortfall in property tax revenue.
That leaves the PSTA board with the difficult task of trying to keep fares as low as possible and keep service cuts to a minimum so the agency won't lose riders, spokesman Bob Lasher said. It's harder and more expensive to regain lost riders than to retain them, he said.
No decision has been made. The PSTA has held some public workshops and plans more. The agency also plans public hearings on the proposals before a July 28 PSTA board vote.
The board could adopt all the proposals, some of them or none of them, Lasher said.
Any changes that are adopted would become effective Oct. 3.
The current PSTA budget is about $54.8 million. Of that, about 20 percent, or $10.9 million, comes from fares. The remaining $43.9 million comes from property taxes and other sources.
Property tax revenue has dropped every year since 2007 and is expected to drop again in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Overall, during that time period, property tax revenue has decreased about 30.5 percent, from $38 million in 2007 to an estimated $26.4 million in the coming fiscal year.
That would bring the 2010-11 PSTA operating revenue to about $51.9 million, which is about $3.7 million short of the $55.6 million operating budget.
But PSTA officials think that increasing some fares, decreasing some service and using reserves could bridge the gap.
Fares affected could include the full and reduced cash fares, some GO cards, and DART cash fares and tickets.
Suggested adjustments to routes include eliminating duplicated service; Routes 1, 30 and 93; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day service; and Sunday and holiday service on eight of the 25 routes.
A more complete description of the proposals and the effect on individual routes can be found at psta.net.
Lasher said the need for cutbacks comes at a bad time.
"We're going to probably set a ridership record this year," he said. "We've been breaking records the last three months and it looks like annually we'll set a record."
Thus far, he said, the PSTA has 6.1 percent more passengers this year than it did by this time last year.
The PSTA also needs to be looking at ways to link to Tampa's new system and to the high-speed rail that is supposed to be built.
All of that could be hurt by cutbacks, he said.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.