Greenlight Pinellas supporters like claim they will grow bus service 65% if voters approve the $110 million annual PSTA tax hike (even though they are likely to rob expansion to build the train). Yet the phenomenon of the empty bus is well known. Last night the Council of North County Neighborhoods held a community forum on “regional transporation” set up by CNCN President and “Yes on Greenlight” co-chair Don Ewing. Things didn’t go to well for Mr. Ewing. Multiple members of the audience, residents in theses CNCN neighborhoods asked essentially this: Why is the East Lake Connector always empty? Good question. Because it carries at most 7 people per day on average. That’s right. Seven. Per day.
The Connector is a small bus that runs along East Lake Road from Tampa Road to the Tarpon Mall. It is a small bus, costing about $144,000 to buy. One of the CNCN forum audience members pointed out that he sees the bus pull up to the supermarket parking lot regularly and witnesses the same phenomenon over and over. The driver gets out, gets a drink, and then comes back to the bus about ten minutes later. He arrives with an empty bus and leaves with an empty bus. Another person asked paid Greenlight Consultant and former PSTA Board chair what the ridership numbers were for the route. The stunned Mr. Danner referred him to the web where the “transparent” PSTA would give him the data. Not so much. While the PSTA claims to be transparent (by publishing names of those who make information requests), it is not on their website. They only have summaries of all routes together. Luckily The Sunbeam Times had obtained this information in the past, but that is not available on the PSTA site as it should be – only the fact the request has been made, not the documents.
A review of PSTA data reveals that the East Lake Connector has a “ridership” of 396 “rides” per month. A ride counts the same person twice. It is safe to assume that the person getting on for one destination is going to go back to their origination site. So it is a highly likely to put the number of riders per month at 198. Dividing those numbers of monthly riders by 30 days in a month gives an average of 6.6 riders per day. So the PSTA has a “connector” that costs $144,000 to carry about 7 people a day with a paid government employee to drive it and a massive government bureaucracy to support it at the $40 million Taj Majal headquarters. The PSTA would do better to merely give out vouchers for these folks for tax rides. At 396 rider per month, and about $20 per cab ride, they could spend $95,040 per year on cab vouchers. They could sell the bus, fire the bus driver, get rid of the cost of gas on that route and the administrative functions to manage the route and come out ahead on the deal. Better yet, they could move these small buses to the other underperforming routes with large $650,000 buses and save money on gas on those routes. Everyone wins. Well, the taxpayers win, PSTA loses cash in their coffers and a way to justify their existence.
Seven riders per day on the East Lake Connector. And the PSTA and all the politicos want us to raise takes to the highest sales tax in the county to add more empty busses. Another reason to vote “no” on Greenlight.