Mayor Kriseman today announced the Taxpayers of St. Petersburg will be paying for unlimited bus rides for the employees of the City. The Mayor will spend $90,000 from taxpayers to extend this new benefit to the city’s approximately 2,700 employees. City employees merely show their City ID card and can get on and off the bus. This action is part of an action by PSTA to pad it shrinking bus rider numbers as it continues to push for passage of the Greenlight Pinellas 14% Sales tax rate hike. The move is needed since the ridership numbers are down compared to last year by nearly 70,000 trips, a 0.6% drop. The U.S. Census bureau calculated that only about 6,000 people in Pinellas County rely on the PSTA bus system to get to work or about 1.6% of the population. It is clear that PSTA needs every rider it can get to justify its bloated and inefficient existence and the $100 million Greenlight Tax hike.
The program, known as U-Pass, allows PSTA to accept a single payment for unlimited ridership by certain agencies. The City of St. Petersburg will start its U-Pass Program (page 8 of this PSTA document) on August 1st. This comes on the heels of a reported $1 million budget “surplus” by the City of St. Petersburg based on rising property tax values generating higher property tax payments to the City. There has not been any public discussion of giving that money back to the taxpayers rather than using it as another means to grow government or provide further excessive benefits to city workers. No mention of using this money to give unlimited bus passes to poor residents of the city either. City workers (after benefits) earn on average 3 times the median income of St. Petersburg residents ($75K vs $25K).
The $90,000 spent means that each employee will be receiving a $33 benefit for “unlimited” bus rides during the 12 months period. It is not clear if the city workers can use the benefit while off of work. The PSTA offers an “Unlimited Go” card for unlimited bus access for a month only at $65/month. So city workers get for “free” ($33 taxpayer expense) what would cost an average citizen $780 per year – getting a better deal than actual paying bus riding citizens. Yet another example of government workers receiving more benefits than the citizens who pay the full cost. This amounts to more subsidization of the failing PSTA by taxpayers.
It is clear that the main motive for this move is to make the bus system look valuable to citizens as the Greenlight Pinellas vote approaches. (If there is any doubt, look again at pg 8 of the recent U-Pass report and note that the Greenlight Pinellas Logo is part of the proposal!) Yet a recent report by the US Census Bureau indicated that even though there are over 1 million “rides”, the actual number of riders on PSTA is only about 6,000 Pinellas citizens relying on it for work. The numbers from the City’s U-Pass program may be used to pad the already nebulous “ridership” statistic that indicated over 1.1 million “riderships” in June for a county that have only 921,000 citizens. Adding 2,600 city workers as pass holders may give them the boost they desperately need to get their ridership numbers into a better range for propaganda. This is a desperate move, at the expense of the taxpayers, to prop up the failing PSTA and failing Greenlight Pinellas $100 million tax hike proposal. Failing? Yes Greenlight Pinellas drew 66% opposition among participants in a recent Tele-Town Hall meeting with Senator Jeff Brandes this week.