Many have described the PSTA as unethical for its practice of spending over $650,000 in taxpayer dollars on an “education” campaign for the Greenlight Pinellas rail boondoggle. The Sunbeam Times has uncovered the true costs paid by the taxpayers for “educational” bus ads. The ads state “The Future of Transit Greenlight Pinellas”. PSTA paid only 2% of what a businesses would pay for such ads and underreports spending only $3,562 on Greenlight education, while the true cost is over $150,000. Furthermore, The Sun Beam Times has uncovered internal policy showing the ads are a clear violation of the PSTA’s own rules against political advertisements on its buses. These “back attack” ads are merely the tip of the iceberg. PSTA is not yet releasing information on the cost of the full bus side ads that feature smiling faces promoting PSTA and bearing large “Greenlight” logos.
The PSTA has placed full “back attack” ads on ten buses on popular routes for a grand total of $3,562.00 for what will likely be 15 months of display (through the November 2014 election). After a difficult public information request, the PSTA provided an invoice showing the ads were ordered on 8/9/2013. Thus they have been in place on the buses since about September 2013. PSTA has no record of removing the ads and they are still visible on many buses about town. Only the production cost of the ads were charged, not the monthly advertising rate (they granted themselves a 5% volume discount). Generally ads of this nature cost private businesses about $3,000 each for a minimum three month run with production costs at $375 per “back attack” ad. Thus, the true value of these ads is $153,562 – about 42 times the actual reported cost by PSTA (15 months at $1,000 per month on ten buses plus production costs). The Sun Beam Times has active public information requests in to account for other Greenlight logo ads on the sides of buses which are far more expensive. PSTA claims that no money will be lost due to unavailable advertising space for paying business. However its own policy (below) indicates they ban “other non-commercial issues” from advertisement specifically to prevent revenue loss. PSTA CEO Brad miller claims that the 200 bus fleet provides enough space for other ads, but does not state that the more desirable bus routes have a limited number of buses for advertisement.
This week, the PSTA declined to allow their political opponent, No Tax for Tracks, from spending $15,000 to purchase ads for three months on five of its buses. The PSTA cited their policy that forbids political advertisements on its buses. The policy (click for PDF), obtained by the Sun Beam Times, was initiated in 1999 by the PSTA Board and begins:
“WHEREAS, in order to maintain a position of neutrality on political, religious, and other non-commercial issues, and to prevent a reduction in income earned for selling advertising space by commercial advertisers, and so as to protect and increase revenue;”
The policy then concludes:
“2. The Executive Director, or his designee, and PSTA’s bus advertising contractor shall reject advertising that does not comply with the standards set forth in paragraphs 3 and 4.
3. The subject matter of all on-bus advertising shall be limited to speech which proposes solely a commercial transaction. The advertisements must contain only expressions related to the economic interest of the advertiser and its audience. Non-commercial advertisements that add an offer to purchase some item containing a non-commercial message are not permitted pursuant to this policy.
4. The following standards for advertising on the exterior or interior of buses is hereby adopted and advertising copy may be not displayed which:
PSTA’s Greenlight bus ad is clearly designed to gain public support for a “yes” vote on the tax hike in November and is thus obviously “political”. The logo for greenlight indicates that the “future of transit” includes buses, rail, bikes and walking (that’s right, walking, cars apparently aren’t part of the future!). There is no doubt that these ads in no way allow the PSTA to “maintain a position of neutrality on political, religious, and other non-commercial issues” as stated by its own policy. In addition, the ads violate the policy that states ads should not be “false, misleading, libelous or deceptive.” The ads clearly aim to mislead and deceive by claiming “Greenlight” is the “future of transit” when that will take voter approval to ensure and deceives when claiming to be part of an “Educational campaign” and not a political campaign.
The CEO and Board of the PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) are proving to be incredibly untrustworthy as they break all the rules -even their own – to push approval of their desired $130 million annual tax hike for the $2.4 billion rail boondoggle. Their behavior can only be described as hypocritical and corrupt. Citizens can only conclude that PSTA officials are betraying the public trust of their stewardship of tax dollars. This deceptive behavior and abuse of the tax dollars indicates they are completely untrustworthy. They can’t be trusted to deliver their claimed 65% increase in bus service, nor build the train on time, on budget or as promised. They can’t be trusted to keep operating costs down or to avoid cannibalizing bus service from poor neighborhoods to pay for trains for the hipster and the political class (as was done in L.A. for ten years – called “Transit Apartheid”). The completely corrupt behavior of the PSTA and all their supporters for “Greenlight” should be enough reason on its own for citizens to decide to vote “no” in November.