Against HART's wishes, Jeff Brandes files bill to force merger between HART & PSTA

"There needs to be a consensus to do it," said Senator Latvala last September when addressing the HART board. He also said that he had asked for an independent group of business officials from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to study the financial ramifications of a merger, though that study has never been published.

In January the HART & PSTA boards met for a joint meeting to discuss the possibility of a merger. The sentiments expressed were pretty negative, but only HART's members voted to send a letter to Senator Latvala expressing >their opposition. (PSTA members such as St. Pete City Council member Jeff Danner and Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch explicitly said they didn't want to alienate Senator Latvala with such a document.)

Currently HART and PSTA participate in procurement consortiums, such as for fuel purchases, A statement released by HART on Thursday said that "consolidation of two agencies that serve two very distinct geographic and demographic areas could negatively impact service and increase operating costs."

On Wednesday, St. Petersburg House Republican Jeff Brandes filed an amendment that mandates a merger between the transit agencies of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

That's despite the repeated statements by HART officials over the past half-year that they want no part of such a proposal.

The discussion to have a merger began last year, pushed by Pinellas County state Senator Jack Latvala. The senator appeared before the HART board last September to advocate for the merger, though he said he was just bringing the issue up for discussion, and said it would have to ultimately be decided by the agencies themselves.

But the Brandes amendment calls for the Legislature, not HART or PSTA, to make that call.

"At this time, there is no compelling reason to force the issue of merging or consolidating the two transit agencies." said HART Chair Fran Davin in a statement. "HART has expressed willingness to study the issue and explore additional advantages to be gained by increased collaboration between the two agencies, as well as other transit agencies of neighboring counties."

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