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Local Public Transit Authority Meets With Congress

A PSTA bus at a stop in Williams Park in downtown St. Petesrburg
Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority / Facebook
Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority
A PSTA bus at a stop in Williams Park in downtown St. Petesrburg

The lack of widespread public transit in the Tampa Bay area is no secret. Talks of  how, when, where, and what kind of transportation options to fund have been lengthy, and largely unproductive at the state and county levels, leaving individual cities to fend for themselves.

In Washington D.C. though, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is hopeful they can secure federal funding for improving transit infrastructure. The association met with representatives of Congress this week to discuss the federal government’s role.

Federal investment, said Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) CEO Brad Miller, is instrumental in maintaining and growing the local options.

“We’re trying to really highlight a lot of the really good things going on in the Tampa Bay area to show them that we need a strong federal partner just like we need a strong state partner and local investment as well.”

The area’s proposed rapid transit bus line is one of the topics that Miller spoke about with Congress.

By talking about what’s already working well, Miller hopes that the federal government will be more inclined to invest in public transit infrastructure to keep the momentum going. At this time, the association is seeking grants from Congress for the project as well as electric buses, Miller said.

He also said the association would push to modernize the current public transit laws and regulations.

“What counts as transportation? There are new things like Uber and Lyft and scooters and bike share,” Miller said. “We want all of those modes to be counted and considered because that’s the direction transportation is going.”

St. Petersburg's downtown trolley and the ferry that runs from St. Petersburg to Tampa
Credit Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Facebook page / Pinellas Suncoast Transit
Pinellas Suncoast Transit
St. Petersburg's downtown trolley and the ferry that runs from St. Petersburg to Tampa

Miller said a wide range of options outside the traditional bus lines are needed for public transit to be successful in the Tampa Bay area. He used downtown St. Petersburg as an example.

The city recently launched an initiative called Car Free St. Pete, which encourages residents and visitors to pick another way to explore, rather than driving a car.

“We’ve got the electric vehicles running around on our Looper. That's a free shuttle that we have running. We've got the ferry boat that runs from downtown St. Petersburg to Tampa," Miller said. "There's a bike share program. In the future there's going to be scooters. There’s a kind of electric golf cart service called Nickel Ride that’s operating in downtown St. Pete."

This plethora of public transit options, Miller said, is what the future of transportation looks like. He and officials from the APTA hope to convince Congress of the same. 

Nicole Slaughter Graham is a WUSF Stephen Noble Intern for the 2019 spring semester.
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