At yesterday’s monthly PSTA board meeting, Pinellas County commissioner Pat Gerard somewhat surprisingly commented that “riding the [PSTA ] buses all the time, you see what kinds of things they [the bus drivers] deal with every day.”
“They can defuse a situation pretty quick,” Gerard continued, speaking about the PSTA bus drivers. ” And there are lots of situations.” See video of Gerard’s comments here.
Gerard, who told The Guardian that she began riding PSTA buses in May of 2019, has discovered what PSTA riders and bus drivers have known for years: that it’s not very safe or pleasant on PSTA buses. Or on transit buses in general.
In May 2019, a Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART) bus operator (a.k.a. “driver”) was stabbed to death while driving a bus. Just two month ago, another HART driver was brutally attacked with a box cutter.
Neither of these incidents should have come as a surprise to HART or PSTA, or their governing boards. PSTA and HART are both members of the pro-transit lobbying organization APTA, which in a 2015 report said that “the past five years witnessed a dramatic increase in the level and intensity of attacks on transit and bus operators.”
In other words, the problem of escalating violence against drivers was known already five years ago. Unstable and/or substance-abusing individuals often target their ire at drivers due to their roles as fare enforcers.
When asked how often she sees these “situations” on PSTA buses that need to be “defused,” Gerard said that “one out of ten times is probably a good estimate.” Gerard says she rides a PSTA fixed route bus, in contrast with special events PSTA buses, “nearly every weekday.”
“Generally, these situations are where a rider is upset with the bus driver or another rider and becomes loud or even threatening,” Gerard said [our emphasis].
“Other times, a rider may be annoying other passengers with loud speech, singing, music, or repeatedly trying to engage another rider who does not want to converse.”
“There are all kinds of people riding the bus,” Gerard added. As data from around the Bay area and around the nation shows, some of those riders are unstable and violent. Maybe that explains why some of them have no access to a car.
Gerard’s candor is highly unusual for politicians on the PSTA board, and even more unusual for PSTA staff. PSTA’s marketing usually displays pictures and videos of hip, young people in their ads, some of them PSTA staff. The kind of people who wouldn’t be caught dead on a PSTA bus.
Also at the monthly PSTA meeting, it emerged that one quarter through its fiscal year, PSTA’s revenue passenger trips (a.k.a. “paying ridership”) eroded another 1.5% year over year.
Despite population growth, record tourism, 40% of its riders paying $6 a month or less, half-off $35 monthly passes for everyone else, PSTA is on track for ending its fiscal year with its lowest paying ridership in 15 years.
This year’s PSTA chairman Joseph Barkley, city commissioner in Belleair Bluffs, had a cold. He stumbled through his first meeting as chair. Barkley did not adhere to PSTA’s own meeting policies, nor did CEO Brad Miller in setting the agenda, choosing to put $3.5 million of new spending in the consent agenda, contrary to PSTA Policy #1, section 2.05 D, which governs consent agendas at board meetings.
With collapsing ridership, the next imagined “human right” to be paid for by others through coercion, the “right to transportation,” might become the latest cause du jour at PSTA under Barkley’s chairmanship. Barkley is a long-time and firm Bernie Sanders supporter, as the below picture of the bumper stickers on his car illustrate. Sanders is notable for his frequent promises of “free” benefits, to be paid for by others.
Move in to the slow lane, UBI (Universal Basic Income), here comes UBM (Universal Basic Mobility) in the passing lane! It’s a human right, claims pro-transit CityLab
Barkley, who wants more people to use transit, unironically drove a Ford Transit to the board meeting. Yes, really….a Transit.
As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.