Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

PSTA, Pinellas Park square off over restrooms, increasing health hazard at mall

PINELLAS PARK — A stalemate in a squabble over restrooms could end with the county bus system moving a transfer point for some of its busiest routes.

The dispute between Pinellas Park and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority centers on the transit point on the south side of the Shoppes at Park Place, 7200 U.S. 19 N. Bus riders, who have no easy access to restrooms, have been using an area near a Dumpster by the Regal Cinemas multiplex to relieve themselves.

The city and the shopping center say it's the PSTA's responsibility to provide for riders. PSTA officials say the agency does have some obligation to provide amenities, but Pinellas Park or the nearby businesses are ultimately responsible.

PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller has offered to provide fencing and contribute $75,000 to offset some of the estimated $250,000 to construct restrooms near the stop. Miller said in a Feb. 3 email to Pinellas Park City Manager Mike Gustafson: "The City of Pinellas Park (or if you choose — the Shoppes at Park Place) will construct, own and maintain the public restroom facility."

Miller added, "I recognize that this offer may not be acceptable to you and PSTA may need to start planning to discontinue this heavily used bus stop. To be clear, I hope that doesn't happen."

Gustafson replied in a Feb. 7 email:

"PSTA has a duty to supply restroom facilities for your riders and employees. Quite frankly, we cannot understand how you can willingly ignore the hazardous health and safety conditions created by PSTA. The only alternative is to move this transfer station to a location where the required restroom facilities are readily available. We cannot let your lack of responsibility toward your riders, employees, business owners and customers of the Shoppes at Park Place continue to become a blight on our community.

"Please let Pinellas Park know if there is any change in policies that will allow this transfer station to remain or if the time has come to find a new location for this transfer site. Please provide a schedule for construction of restrooms or relocation of this transfer site."

Pinellas Park police Lt. Kevin Riley, who oversees a unit dedicated to solving problems in the city's business area, said, "This has been a problem that's been going on since day one out there."

But it has worsened as ridership has increased. An estimated 1,000 people change buses there twice a day, making about 2,000 transfers daily at that location.

Riley said people don't have enough time between buses to run up to one of the center businesses or to the convenience store down the street to use the facilities. The result is that a movie theater employee must spend an hour or so a day hosing down and disinfecting the area.

The city contacted the PSTA and offered to pay $100,000 toward the construction costs, Assistant City Manager Tom Shevlin said.

For a while, it seemed the problem would be solved, but the PSTA had second thoughts. The agency has restrooms at only three of its transfer points. All are on PSTA property or are where PSTA representatives are on duty all day, Miller said. Maintaining an off-site restroom would be a problem. Also problematic is the possibility of setting a precedent. Other cities with similar problems might also want the PSTA to build restrooms.

Miller said it's an issue the PSTA board must deal with. He's taking a draft policy before the board at its Feb. 22 meeting.

At least one PSTA board member said he thinks the agency does have a responsibility to its riders and to the cities and businesses where stops are located. If the PSTA plans to expand services, Ken Welch, who is also a county commissioner, said, it will have to provide amenities like sidewalks, shelters and restrooms at high-volume stops.

But before Welch signs on to PSTA-constructed restrooms at the Shoppes at Park Place, he said he wants to see more information about the cost. The PSTA may not have the financial ability to do much now.

Reach Anne Lindberg at (727) 893-8450 or [email protected]

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