Now we're talking mass transit

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Of some concern among board members was a bill that was floated in the Florida Legislature this year. Sponsored in the House by Representative Mark Pafford,D-West Palm Beach, the bill would revise criteria by which special districts — such as HART and the PSTA — are declared inactive by a governing body, and would dictate that in Hillsborough County, a ballot measure would be required for HART to dissolve themselves into a new agency.


The bill isn't expected to pass in the waning days of the current Florida Legislative session, scheduled to end Friday.


Board member Dr. Steven Polzin told his colleagues that nobody should overreact to Pafford's bill because he said that specific legislation wasn't exclusively singling out HART or transit, and besides, "Nobody has defined what's broken yet." He suggested that at some point, HART members should convene to discuss the pros and cons of such a potential merger.


County Commissioner and board member Mark Sharpe said such a meeting would be helpful, and said he had already had conversations with Pinellas/Hillsborough state Senator Jack Latvala and "other individuals" who have said they would be interested in the two agencies working together. "If there are resources that can be shared," Sharpe said affirmatively, "let's find a way to share resources."


Sharpe said that it was his understanding that the special districts bill would be pushed next year much more seriously in the Legislature.


Meanwhile as HART looks at wrapping up its Alternative Analysis soon, Pinellas residents will have a chance this week to weigh in their AA study, which is looking at narrowing down the choices of routes and technologies that were recommended during the first part of the study.


Public hearings begin tonight and go through Thursday in the county:


• St. Petersburg area — Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Sunshine Senior Center, 330 5th Street North, St. Petersburg.
• Clearwater/Largo area — Wednesday, May 4, 2011, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Historic Largo Feed Store, 295 Central Park Drive, Largo.
• Carillon/Gateway area — Thursday, May 5, 2011, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Holiday Inn Select, 3535 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater.

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Although it's been somewhat subtle, there's unquestionably been discussion in local quarters recently about the local transit agencies for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties — HART & PSTA — coming together to merge as one large agency.

At Monday's HART board meeting, County Commissioner Sandy Murman said she had been hearing "a buzz" about a possible merger, and proposed a motion that any correspondence with or about the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority should be disseminated to all board members to make sure "there are no back room deals." Murman said she wanted to insure that any discussions about the subject should be out in the open.

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