St. Petersburg Transit Chief Gives Up Car For a Month-Long Listening Tour on Buses

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller has been riding the bus for two weeks. Photo: Brad Miller/Twitter
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller has been riding the bus for two weeks. Photo: Brad Miller/Twitter

For the last two weeks, Brad Miller, CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, has been experiencing something too few people in his position ever do: riding his agency’s buses on a daily basis.

Miller is ditching his car for month and getting around almost exclusively on the St. Petersburg region’s transit system. He’s putting his time on the bus to good use, listening to riders’ concerns. Taylor Telford at the Tampa Bay Times reports on one of these exchanges:

[Lurrell] Alston told Miller he’d ridden PSTA buses for years. Miller wrote feverishly in his notebook as Alston spat out complaints and suggestions. Some were little things that Miller promised to consider. The buses needed buttons instead of a pull cord to request stops, Alston said. They needed more straps for standing riders.

But they also needed broader, more frequent services, Alston said. He complained that he spent as many hours waiting on the buses as he did riding them.

For the first time, reports Telford, Miller was experiencing first hand what it’s like to ride the buses for most trips:

Before his experiment, Miller had ridden the bus four or five times a year. But now, as he recounted experiences from his first two weeks, he could sympathize with the riders’ frustrations.

He missed part of his son’s baseball game in Seminole because the buses couldn’t get him there efficiently. He learned to carry an umbrella — which he snagged from the PSTA lost and found — after he got stuck in a storm walking from the bus stop. He was trapped under the awning at the Starbucks at 900 Fourth St. N, waiting for his wife to take him the rest of the way home. He even started waking up hours earlier to get to work on time.

But for him, it’s temporary. Sure, he plans to ride the buses more often, even after the month is up. But most riders don’t have the luxury of choosing between a bus and a car. They depend on PSTA and suffer its flaws every day.

Unfortunately, Miller doesn’t have much in the way of resources to address riders’ biggest complaint: scarce, infrequent service. In 2010, area voters sided against a $130 million transit package that would have expanded bus service. The region of 3.2 million residents only spends $40 million annually on transit, a figure that puts it in the company of cities a fraction of its size, Telford reports. Meanwhile, Florida DOT is planning to dump $6 billion into highway expansions for the region.

More recommended reading today: Bike Portland lists the “seven bicycle infrastructure wonders” of the city, and they’re pretty impressive. And the Political Environment reports on how one Wisconsin pol is trying to extort an accelerated timetable for his pet highway project out of Governor Scott Walker.

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Photo: Stefanie Seskin/Flickr

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