PSTA announces partnership with USF St. Pete to offer free bus rides to students and staff

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Students and faculty at USF St. Pete can now ride the bus for free. That’s thanks to a $13,000 partnership between the downtown university and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority that allows employees and students to board buses for free just by showing their USF IDs.

“That could save them up to $10,000 a year,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller during a press conference Wednesday.

That savings projection is based on using public transportation in lieu of owning and operating a vehicle. Many riders would likely see varied savings depending on how often they use the bus verses driving.

The UPass program at USF St. Pete adds to a growing list of ways residents can expand their transportation options at no cost to them. Saint Petersburg College and the city of St. Pete also recently joined forces with PSTA to offer free rides to employees and students.

The deal is sweet for PSTA. Despite record ridership this year, the agency is still facing insolvency by 2017 if they don’t start bringing more money in. The UPass program guarantees fair box revenue for the agency. The fee charged is based on an estimated number of rides taken by students and faculty at USFSP.

Even with increased revenue, PSTA’s financial problems won’t be entirely solved. They are relying on a one penny sales tax ballot initiative called Greenlight Pinellas to not only solve budget shortfalls that are eating into reserves, but to improve service for users throughout the county.

Greenlight Pinellas would increase bus service and frequency and add bus rapid transit and, eventually, a passenger rail line. It would increase sales tax from 7% to 8% while eliminating the portion of property taxes currently funding public transportation.

PSTA officials are using any P.R. event, the USF UPass press conference included, to push the plan. Technically the agency isn’t supposed to tell voters to support the plan. So, they are instead “educating” the public about benefits.

“PSTA has a complimentary role in physically connecting our citizens with opportunities throughout the community – connecting them to education opportunities, connecting them to healthcare opportunities, connecting them to employment opportunities,” PSTA board chair Ken Welch said.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.