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GreenLight Pinellas - The Other View

Public Transportation is a necessity; the sales tax referendum is deeply flawed.

 Since Bay Post is now on more PATCH sites, Gulfport, Pinellas Beaches, Largo, Clearwater, Safety Harbor, Dunedin and more this is a repost from a week ago:

Since I am going to be taking a contrarian position on the GreenLight Pinellas sales tax referendum, I thought it was proper to lay out my general position in some detail so readers will be able to evaluate my comments as they make their decision regarding the Sales Tax Referendum.

Public Transportation
I am not opposed to public transportation. I believe that public transportation is a duty and responsibility of local government. I also agree and support the facts that: a) public transportation will never be a financially self sustaining program, and b) that all tax payers have a responsibility to contribute to the public transportation effort of their community.

Public Transportation Modes
Public transportation comes in many flavors including buses, trolley, trams, high speed rail, light rail and ferries. Intermodal systems use a combination of these specific types of transportation modes to build a functional public transportation system.

The mode or modes of a public transportation system in a community such as Pinellas County should fit the geography, demographics, commercial nature and objectives of the community. There is a place for buses, ferries and maybe light rail.

Governance
The establishment of public a transportation system such as the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PASTA) creates an entity with taxing authority to support the financial needs of public transportation. In Pinellas County PSTA has been carefully crafted to allow all of the 24 Cities in the County some degree of input along with a strong presence from the Pinellas County Commission. PSTA is a bit unwieldy, but highly representative.

What I Believe
I believe that the public transportation authority, PSTA in this case, has a responsibility to use public funds in an efficient and effective manner; such that the needs of those who use and depend on public transit are the first consideration and the most efficiently served.

I believe that a sales tax properly conceived would be an excellent mechanism to fund public transportation in Pinellas County. I further believe the sales tax Ordinance should set up a sales tax mechanism allowing a variable rate with a 1% maximum tax cap.

I do not believe that the Sales Tax Ordinance as offered in this Referendum  provides sufficient controls to assure the public interest (those who need and use public transit should have access) is served and that public funds are properly allocated or protected.

I do not believe that voter approval of this Ordinance establishing an immediate massive revenue source that passes directly to PSTA is either reasonable or prudent.

I believe that to the extent possible development of public transportation should not be significant economic disrupter in terms of local small and medium sized business.

I do not believe public transportation has a primary responsibility to support sports teams, developers or core commercial centers where future development is the primary driver.

I do not believe that the almost fanatical obsession with light rail as evidenced and conceived by the PSTA and its supporters such as TBARTA meet the true needs of Pinellas County public transportation.

Over the next ten months or so I will explore these issues and others related to the Sales Tax Referendum. I invite your comments and thoughts both positive and negative.

 Read the Sales Tax Ordinance at Greenlight Pinellas Tax Ordinance.

E-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net. Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosers: Contributor to
No Tax for Tracks

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Paul Ray January 25, 2014 at 06:27 AM
Nice blog post. Although I agree with your stance on transparency on the funds usage I do not agree that it is a strong enough argument to derail (pun intended) the entire concept. Cities where reliance on public transportation is high (SF, Boston, NYC) did not do so over night and did not do so without some bumpy roads. You right stated that it is in fact the duty and responsibility of the communities governing bodies to make available useful and practical transportation for reasons from environmentalism to assistance to the poorer of us. I disagree and think the Green Light Pinellas is a positive step in the right direction IMHO
Laurie Meggesin January 25, 2014 at 07:03 AM
Having lived in a metro area (Dallas) where I witnessed the strong benefits a light rail system bestowed on the local economy and quality of life of its residents, I am a strong proponent of GreenLight Pinellas and will happily pay the extra sales tax to support light rail in our region. As a commuter who suffers daily traffic congestion (and it's well-documented that Tampa Bay has some of the longest commute times in the country), I would personally value the availability of a light rail system. Additionally, if our area wants to attract young professionals and new businesses, it is well-established that a strong public transportation system including light rail is a major driver of economic growth for regions. In Dallas, I witnessed blighted areas transformed into thriving communities where light rail stations were built. The penny tax is a small price to pay for the significant, proven benefits of light rail in communities across the country, and the referendum has my enthusiastic vote.
arthur finegold January 25, 2014 at 09:32 AM
The first step is to improve the bus system. This is a necessity regardless of what happens later. A vote against the referendum is a vote to delay this important improvement long overdue. Vote for progress and to assist all those who need to get around and need or prefer an option to the automobile.
Rey Caruso January 25, 2014 at 01:13 PM
We need a better system for getting to Tampa from Pinellas & back, many Pinellas residents work in Tampa and we need to take all those "Solo" occupant cars off the road, light rail would be perfect! The current 100x & 300x routes do not work for most people.
JudyToo January 25, 2014 at 05:12 PM
These are all very interesting comments, most good, some questionable. It is enlightening to know that so many people are supporting this redistribution of wealth. The $2 BILLION will be taken from the poorest among us and given to contactors, train manufacturers and real estate developers. 1. There is NO rail connection to Tampa in this plan or in any other plan. To do so would also require a new bridge - does anyone know what a new bridge would cost? 2. The 1% increase is $130 MILLION per year, every year, forever. Some for improved bus service, most for light rail. A train from St. Pete to Clearwater (not to Dunedin) that would ultimately cost at least $3 BILLION, probably more and we would also be obligated to repay the cost plus interest. 3. The need for light rail has not been established. PSTA could offer an express bus from St. Pete to Clearwater along the same route with the same stops in the same time and detremine ridership. PSTA refuses to do so. 4. I found out that TEA (as in tea party) means Taxed Enough Already. If some people want to pay more taxes, they are free to make donations to the govt agency of their choice, including PSTA. 5. This is not a political issue, it has nothing to do with politics or ideology. It has everything to do with how much money can be taken out of our earnings and managed by govt. Have you ever noticed that they take more out of our paychecks every year? Have you noticed how much better off we are today? Do you want the govt to take and manage more of your money? 6. This is a sales tax. Everyone pays sales tax that buys anything taxable. Men, women, children. Poor and rich and middle class. Seniors on fixed incomes. It is the most regressive tax possible - it affects the poor and those on fixed incomes the most. 7. This sales tax that everyone pays is supposed to help the 1.6% of our population that actually uses public transportation. The other 98% will actually be hurt in that $130 MILLION will be taken out of our economy, every year, forever. 8. The train cannot be built without even more tax money from the state and federal govt. There is no guarantee that will be available in the future. If not, there will be no train and we will have given PSTA an additional $100 MILLION of our money every year for what? More buses? We already have 200 buses and most of them are empty most of the time. It would cost nothing to re-deploy those buses to routes that address the needs of the people. 9. Trains work in cities like Dallas, SF, Boston, NYC, etc. where there are destinations receiving very high numbers of people on a regular basis - a downtown business district, an urban core, where the jobs are. Pinellas County has no such concentrations. Large numbers of people do not go to the same place every day. Downtown St. Pete and downtown Clearwater are not congested areas even during so-called "rush hours." 10. A "penny is a small price to pay" until you add it all up and find that it is not a penny, it is $130 MILLION every year that cannot go into our small businesses, cannot buy groceries or pay bills or rent or buy a home. 11. Would someone please, please give us all an example of a light rail system built in the last 30 years that has turned out to be what they promise? They promise a booming economy, more jobs, more people, more development (do we need more?), less traffic congestion and cleaner air. Think we can get all that for a penny? For $130 MILLION a year? Really? Show us.
Laurie Meggesin January 25, 2014 at 06:00 PM
Dallas, which opened its first light rail line about 20 years ago, is a great example of the economic benefits of light rail: http://www.dart.org/about/economicdevelopment/economicimpactstudyjune2009.asp And the above poster apparently has never lived in Dallas, as Dallas' employment centers are widely dispersed throughout the greater Metroplex and not concentrated in any one area. Moreover, the above poster apparently does not commute during rush hour traffic here in Pinellas County, like I do. Tampa Bay has been named one of the 20 worst commuting areas in the U.S., with congestion costing commuters almost $670 million annually. $130 million annually for light rail or $670 million annually for status quo traffic congestion? You do the math.
JudyToo January 25, 2014 at 10:22 PM
How many people work in downtown Dallas vs downtown St. Petersburg or Clearwater?........ Why won't PSTA put buses on an identical route with the same stops and travel times?........ The congestion you refer to is for "Tampa Bay," which has nothing to do with a train from St. Pete to Clearwater and there is NO train planned to go across the bay......... As to your link as a reference, of course it is glowing, it is information published by DART......... Just like PSTA reports record ridership. Do you know that transfers are counted as additional rides by PSTA? If you transfer twice in getting from A to B, that is 3 rides. If you return to A, that is 6 rides........ Take a look at this link:......... http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2011/09/20/is-dart-the-failure-it-appears-to-be/........... Some excerpts:..... "A Dallas Morning News review of passenger data from the past 15 years shows that despite massive promotion and billions in tax dollars spent, most of DART’s rail stations serve fewer people now than when they opened."........... "In 2007, DART budget writers predicted that by 2012, the Green, Blue and Red lines would combine to provide 45 million passenger trips per year. Last week, [CFO David] Leininger told the agency’s board that he’d be pleased with half that many. That is a miscalculation of approximately 100 percent."..... ..........Here is another analysis: "Want proof that a massive light rail system doesn’t necessarily produce massive ridership? Look no further than Dallas, where 44 miles of DART light rail extending throughout the region and a rapidly growing population weren’t enough to prevent a decline in public transportation boardings between 2000 and 2010. The network carries about 60,000 riders a day — a pittance in the context of the city’s 1.3 million inhabitants. The most recent U.S. Census data show that the city’s transit mode share stands at less than 4%; the metropolitan region’s share is just 1.5%. Both are down from 2000."......... http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/12/05/an-extensive-new-addition-to-dallas-light-rail-network-makes-it-americas-longest/ .............. Note that the metro area usage is 1.5% of the population with the longest (44 miles) light rail system in the country. That is almost the same as the 1.6% of the population using PSTA.
Paul Ray January 26, 2014 at 07:13 AM
@JudyToo, read all those comments in the past when SF was gearing up for the market st line rail, and it was a success. Check out the answer to your question of where in the last 30 years have light rails been installed in google. A littler research might stun you. Dozens have most all with varying levels of sucess. Might I suggest the lengthy list of cons be followed by some suggestions?
Ray Raulerson January 26, 2014 at 08:23 AM
I abhor any and ALL proposed tax increases for any purpose. We are already over taxed for what we receive from out government, i.e. What we pay the same people who are supporting this “GreenLight Pinellas” initiative to oversee and “provide (I hate that word in this context) for us” ; One question I keep asking is what happens when the Tampa Bay Rays finally MOVE out of and away from Tropicana Field? (Oh, they aren’t saying; hmm no contingency plan) and the second question How Much does each elected official who supports this “green light” program stand to make in either direct compensation of “windfall profits”?
Howard Warshauer January 26, 2014 at 09:04 AM
Thanks Dr. Webb for putting my thoughts into words, I agree with your statements 100%. See http://www.streetfilms.org/mba-bus-rapid-transit/ for a good analysis of Bus Rapid Transit and why that is best for our area.
Charlie Holzler January 26, 2014 at 09:11 AM
I find it hard to believe this is anything but a planned money grab by the PSTA to be accompanied by expanded government and more spending without adequate transparency and controls.
Richard Philip Blommaert January 26, 2014 at 09:26 AM
One of the failures of the Hillsborough referendum was the lack of specifics. Does the November Pinellas referendum include a budget for land acquisition, construction, equipment purchase and continuing subsidies? No! Nor does it address the 600 pound gorilla; the obvious need for Pinellas / Hillsborough links.
JudyToo January 26, 2014 at 11:31 AM
@Paul Ray: I have actually studied all of the light rail systems that are referred to in various PSTA promotions: Charlotte, Portland Phoenix are specifically mentioned.......The population density and metro population in SF are far, far more than we have in Pinellas County........Supporters seem to forget that this is a $130 MILLION a year money grab from Pinellas citizens for a $2 BILLION train from St. Pete to Clearwater; neither has a concentration of jobs or residents.......The "bus enhancements" are badly needed rearrangements of the routes and more efficient deployment of the 200 buses we already bought and paid for but for some reason most of them are empty.......We cannot expect 5 routes to carry 60% of the riders while 35 routes average 15 riders per hour to be the most efficient use of our tax dollars.......The $130 MILLION will not even pay for the train, we will need more money from the state and federal govts - more tax dollars to throw at a problem we don't have.......I ask again, "Why doesn't PSTA have express buses from St. Pete to Clearwater if we need a train to move so many riders?"......Charlotte has a 9 mile train that costs $15 to move one person from A to B. The fare is $2. Taxpayers pay the difference......They are now adding another 9 miles for $1.2 BILLION, 75% of the cost is coming from state and federal taxes, the other 25% from local sales taxes.......Do the math, that is $133 MILLION per mile, ALL taxpayer dollars so they can move more people at a loss of $13 per ride.........Problem is that with a sales tax, it ends up that poor people are paying for rich people to ride a train to their high-paying downtown jobs......PSTA is trying to do the same thing and if it costs $133 MILLION per mile, 23 miles = $3 BILLION, all taxpayers money before we start losing at least $13 per ride.........Most of those dollars will come from the 98% of our population who will never ride the train.......By the way, when you are studying the "success" of other light rail systems, you have to dig a little deeper because most of what you see will be glowing reviews from the transit agencies, not probing analyses from objective sources........NO light rail system has demonstrated economic viability, cleaner air, less traffic congestion or more jobs as a direct result of investing billions of dollars and tearing up streets for 10 years.......But there is ONE thing you can take to the bank: this is a perfect opportunity to take more money out of people's pockets (rich and poor) and put it into the hands of a govt entity that can supposedly manage our money better than we can.
Ray Raulerson January 26, 2014 at 12:44 PM
I have been to Washington, D.C., and yes the Metro Rail is very efficient WHEN IT IS RUNNING AND ON SCHEDULE; however does it pay for it self? Good question. My understanding (yes I know it is not light rail but same principle moving a lot of people from one place to another in a can on rails) the government subsidizes it from taxes as found on their web site: "Fares and advertising revenue do not pay for all of the costs of operating Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess service. The shortfall is covered by contributions from the District of Columbia, Maryland, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Fairfax County, and Falls Church."! Oh, and you know that the tracks as well as the machinery are now constantly being worked on, it began service in 1976....so see what we have to look forward to more taxes less service.
JudyToo January 27, 2014 at 01:14 AM
Washington Transit Authority: "For fiscal year 2013, the Authority had an approved annual budget of approximately $2.5 billion with the largest portion, $1.6 billion, dedicated to operating the system. The budget contained approximately 12,300 authorized staff positions.".............. http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/docs/FY%2013%20CAFR%20Final%2012-27-13.pdf ............ 2013: total actual revenue generated was $0.9 BILLION and total operating expenses were $2.35 BILLION - taxpayers paid $1.45 BILLION........the revenue increase ($88 MILLION) was slightly offset by decreases in total passenger trips." ......In other words, fewer riders paid higher fares than in 2012.........Fares were 35% of operating revenues.......Approx. 11% of the population uses the metro transit system........ The pension plan has $2 BILLION in unfunded liabilities...... Lesson learned: a huge transit system serving a huge population loses huge amounts of money........Remember, ALL of the capital costs were paid with taxpayers money - more than $15 BILLION.
JudyToo January 27, 2014 at 02:15 AM
Charts do not copy into this format very well - the link to this information is below......The most interesting point is the loss per ride for all the light rail systems listed (see the chart)........... Here's the short story: Charlotte loses $20.14 on every trip; Dallas, $18.50; Denver, $6.85; Washington DC (heavy rail), $6.09; San Francisco, $4.53. These are just the ones mentioned above - look up your favorite and see for yourself..........Note that the national average is about $7.00/trip............. PSTA currently loses about $3.00/trip just on bus operating costs........... Paul Ray mentioned Dallas - they lose $18.50 on every trip. Multiply that by 66,000 riders x2 (assuming a round trip) and you get a loss of about $2.5 MILLION per day. This does include amortization of the capital cost to put the train into service. ..........Charlotte demographics are similar to Pinellas County so we could expect something on the order of $20/ride or about $400,000 per day assuming 10,000 weekday riders, which is a very optimistic assumption..........If you plan to vote, do your homework and be an informed voter!........ Charts:....... http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa663.pdf
arthur finegold January 28, 2014 at 05:54 PM
It seems ironic when people say they abhor all taxes, yet take advantage of the benefits that accrue from those same taxes they hate. Do they only ride around only on private roads? Did they know anyone who went to public school? Do they tell the police or fire fighters to ignore their neighborhood? And BTW, do roads really pay for themselves, or are they subsized too? Are comparisons for public mass transportations to infrastructure for automobile traffic a fair comparison?
Scooter Dave January 28, 2014 at 06:03 PM
"No Tax For Tracks" uses a lot of "Hocus Pocus" where they say something absolutely “True”, but in such a way so you think it means something entirely different. Here's an example.                                             Under the Green Light plan, sales tax will raise 1%, from 7% to 8%. NTFT has told us many times, this is a FOURTEEN PERCENT increase and, at 8%, Pinellas will have the highest county sales tax in the state (where most are at 7%)                                         Sounds pretty scary. HOCUS-POCUS! So let's go to the store: _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _   #1.                                       Today, you walk out of Home Depot, or Target, or Sears with an armful of stuff, you just paid the current 7% sales tax, and your receipt is for EXACTLY $100. After the 14% tax increase you buy the same items for the same price in the the same store, what will you pay?                                                      Guess: 140.00? 114.00? 101.40? Go ahead and guess. The ratio is the same if you buy $5 or $500, the math is just easier if you use one-hundred. _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _   #2                                       NTFT says they are worried about the single mother with children and seniors on fixed income. Today, one walks out of Publix, or Winn-Dixie, or Family Dollar, with several bags of groceries and a receipt for EXACTLY $100. After Pinellas has “THE HIGHEST SALES TAX IN THE STATE” at 8%, what would the receipt say?                                             Guess: 140.00? 114.00? 101.40? Remember the REGRESSIVE Sales Tax INCREASED FOURTEEN PER CENT on those who can least afford it! _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _   #3                                  This poor (minimum wage or unemployed) single mom stopped by the Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Church Thrift store to pick up some “lightly used” kids clothes. She found some bargains on a pair of pants and two tops for herself. Enough to hold the whole family for winter. Her receipts was for EXACTLY $100. After the FOURTEEN PERCENT TAX INCREASE, what will her receipt say?                                             Guess: 140.00? 114.00? 101.40? Remember, the ratio is the same if she spends $10 or her whole month's paycheck. _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _   #4                                       Scrooge McDuck has decided to purchase a new car. He sells his old one on Craigslist and heads down to the dealership. The car plus tax works out to be EXACTLY $50,000. Under the massive tax increase of FOURTEEN PERCENT, what will Uncle McDuck's car's Price+Tax be?                                       Guess:  $57,000?  $51,400?  $50,708?  Go ahead and guess.                                  Don't fall for the "Hocus Pocus". Do the math, then support Green Light Pinellas. _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  _   #1 $100 →                                                           #2 $100 →                                                           #3 $100 →                                                           #4 $50,000 →                                      
JudyToo January 28, 2014 at 10:43 PM
Let me simplify the quiz for you:......... PSTA currently takes $30 MILLION per year through ad valorem/property taxes........With the 14% additional sales tax levied on everyone, rich or poor, young or old, PSTA will take $130 MILION from everyone - that is money taken directly out of the local economy.......PSTA raised the amount taken from property owners by 30% in 2010 by increasing the millage.....Now they want to increase their funding by another 333%......Do you really believe taxpayers should turn PSTA loose with $130 MILLION of taxpayers money to do whatever they want?.....Really?......You know exactly what they plan to do with the money or do you simply trust them?.....I don't know, you don't know and if they actually know, they are not telling us......They are just giving us a broad brush of some wonderful sounding things they might do........The 1% increase in the sales tax rate is played down and minimized so no one will think of it as $130 MILLION out of our local economy every year, forever.......Ask any small business owner if they would like to see $130 MILLION disappear from the local economy every year.......Anyone buying the Greenlight Pinellas scheme just thinks they are getting a free lunch.....That same thinking is how we end up with over $17 TRILLION in debt for our children and grandchildren to pay back.....with interest.
JudyToo January 28, 2014 at 10:54 PM
@Arthur finegold:....Your comparison would be more accurate if you would calculate the cost/user paid by taxpayers for roads in excess of gas taxes.....Then compare that to the cost per user of PSTA (or any public transit).......PSTA has documented that they serve less than 2% of the population so that logically infers that about 98% of the population is using the roads that they pay for.......AND paying for all of the capital costs and 75% of the operating costs of PSTA.......Now they want even more money so they can lose even more money on a train from St. Pete to Clearwater......Do you really believe that will make everything OK?.......That we can spend our way into prosperity?.....Do you realize that Pinellas County is forecasted to stay at the same or slightly lower population for the next ten years?......Where are we going to get more people to ride the $2 BILLION Greenlight Dreamboat?
arthur finegold January 29, 2014 at 06:30 AM
There is currently low ridership because of the inadequate schedules and routes of the current system. Studies show that more frequent service covering more routes increases the number of riders. Build it and they will come. A more effective mass transit will benefit even those who are not regular riders. It provided environmental benefits, cuts down on traffic congestion and will fuel economic development.
JudyToo January 29, 2014 at 11:50 PM
Did it ever occur to you that low ridership is due to PSTA's failure to offer a useful service? They have been spending more money every year for 30 years and still don't get it......And you want to increase taxes by $100 MILLION to help them do what? Waste even more money?
Mitchell McConnell January 30, 2014 at 06:39 AM
>>>>because of the inadequate schedules and routes of the current system When statist schemes fail, it is never because they were fatally flawed, but because they "weren't implemented properly". Hint, if something can never work, it won't ever work! FWIW, I am a pragmatist, not any other "ist", and I *do* support reasonable public transportation that is re-configurable to meet changing circumstances, such as buses.

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