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Column: On the road to improved Pinellas transit

Times have changed for us in Pinellas County. Once we were viewed only as a place to ride off into the sunset; now we are on the leading edge of what Florida is looking like as a whole — younger and more diverse. As the Tampa Bay region begins to emerge from years of recession, we need our leaders to recognize and seize an important opportunity to transform our future. That opportunity is Greenlight Pinellas.

Today, the Pinellas County Commission will get the chance to initiate a new countywide discussion over how best to modernize a key element of our economy and our future: public transportation. In setting the stage for this discussion, the commission has the opportunity to ensure the public will get a clear and honest understanding of the ballot choice it will have on November 2014.

The county has engaged in a monthslong conversation called Greenlight Pinellas, bringing to the discussion a wide range of people, including elected officials as well as business and civic leaders. From the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs to the pink streets at the southern tip of St. Petersburg and everywhere in between, people have gathered in a spirit of collaboration and consensus to discuss our public transportation needs and how we can establish a modern method of meeting those needs. As a result, the plan has received overwhelming support from each of these groups.

The Greenlight Pinellas Plan includes transformational bus improvements and future passenger rail that will significantly enhance public transportation in Pinellas County. If the proposed referendum passes in November 2014, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority would implement the Greenlight Pinellas Plan.

Implemented over 30 years, the plan would eliminate PSTA's nearly 0.75 mill property tax and replace it with a fairer 1 percent sales tax, beginning January 2016. Overall bus service in Pinellas County will increase by 65 percent; bus rapid transit lines will be added on most major Pinellas corridors, and buses will run to and from Tampa and the airport in the evenings and on weekends. We will see a fourfold increase in bus service in northern Pinellas County, and there will be longer service hours to accommodate second shift workers and evening travelers. In addition there will be future passenger rail from St. Petersburg to Clearwater via the Gateway/Carillon area.

Today the commissioners are scheduled to vote on specific ballot language to place this plan before the voters in a referendum. This referendum would be held in November 2014. The Greenlight Pinellas Council is recommending that the county commission approve the simplest, most straightforward ballot language possible for the voters to consider in 2014.

When the referendum happens next year, it will be a historic opportunity for the people of Pinellas County to establish a modern, efficient and fair mechanism for the future of public transportation, one that matches our dynamic community. The people deserve to have the question put forward in such a way that we can have a clear conversation about the merits of this plan.

Today Pinellas commissioners have the chance to take an important step into the future by ensuring the ballot language gives voters a clear choice.

Jeff Danner, a member of the St. Petersburg City Council, is also chairman of the PSTA board. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Column: On the road to improved Pinellas transit 12/09/13 [Last modified: Monday, December 9, 2013 5:07pm]

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