KPMG to do new study of possible HART/PSTA consolidation

Last year, after a state mandated study for consolidation was released, representatives from both Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) said they did not think it was the right time for the two to merge — though they disagreed on whether further study was necessary.

Clearwater area state Sen. Jack Latvala wasn't satisfied with that response, and filed a new bill during this year's legislative session assigning Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) $200,000 to supervise another study. His initial request for a study found that merging HART and PSTA could save some $2.4 million a year, but members of HART in particular took issue with that conclusion.

At the HART's Major Projects and Legislative Committee meeting on Monday, HART COO Katherine Eagan informed board members that the accounting firm of KPMG is the sole company to bid on handling the assignment of studying a possible consolidation between the transit authorities.

Eagan said that KPMG has experience in evaluating and making recommendations for transit agencies, noting their recent study on Atlanta's public transit agency, MARTA. However that study was geared toward improving the overall efficiencies of MARTA; it did not examine the pros and cons of it consolidating with another agency. (Interestingly, that report came under fire from a New York-based scholar who said KPMG's findings on privatization for the agency were flawed.)

Eagan said that the auditing firm has already noted significant differences between the two counties' transportation issues when it comes to things like strategies, demographics and land use. When asked by board member Karen Jaroch to elaborate, Eagan said "It's not apples and oranges, but it's a fruit salad." The CEO was referring to the fact that the agencies have slightly different goals, even though core bus services are the heart of their respective missions.

Eagan said that the densities between the counties are different, as are the length of the average bus trip — they're shorter in Pinellas. There's also more tourist-oriented bus trips taking place in Pinellas County.

The report is scheduled to be completed by late January of 2014. KPMG will make their findings directly to TBARTA, and not to the boards of PSTA and/or HART. State legislators will be given the report in early February.

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