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Hillsborough, Pinellas Transit Agencies Receive $31 Million In COVID-19 Relief

A PSTA bus at a stop in Williams Park in downtown St. Petesrburg
Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority / Facebook
Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority
PSTA and HART are splitting approximately $31M in COVID-19 relief funds.

Transit agencies for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties will split $30.8 million in federal funds designed to protect them from the pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has left transit agencies in the greater Tampa Bay region struggling with fewer riders and a decrease in funding.

However, $30.8 million in federal relief money is looking to fix this problem.

Similar to the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed last year, the money from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Actwill help with payroll and keeping services going.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties will split the funds with $15.7 million going towards the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and $15.1 million going towards the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The agreement is expected to be finalized in the upcoming weeks.

Stephanie Rank, the public relations coordinator for PSTA, explains how the pandemic has affected her agency.

“It definitely took the breath out of the sails for a little bit, but we trusted our health officials with the county and got direction from other federal employees,” she said. “Then we took our own initiative to keep our employees and our community safe.”

Some of the measures include not charging riders since March 2020, reducing the number of riders on a bus, and giving employees the proper equipment to sanitize their vehicles and protect themselves and riders.

Rank said none of this would have been possible without the CARES Act passed last year.

“We were able to receive $40 million from that CARES Act. That has helped tremendously with preserving jobs, preserving routes, and keeping those supplies up for PPE’s and hand sanitizer, making sure that our employees and our community are safe.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, HART plans to cut some routes, and officials have indicated they will use the federal money will for payroll and other operating expenses. Rank made it clear that Pinellas has no plans to shut down any routes; instead, they’ll focus on alternative solutions.

“One thing we know is that we are a lifeline for many people in Pinellas County. People rely on us to get to their jobs, to get to their appointments for doctors, to get to the grocery store,” she said. “So what we’ve done is reduce the frequency (of some routes) and move that to our core routes where we have a higher volume of ridership. We have plugs -- so once we reach our maximum capacity and we saw people still needed a bus to get to wherever they needed to go, we would radio in, and another bus would pick up those people.”

The Times also reports that the significant drop-off in ridership has cost HART slightly over $1 million. And while PSTA has seen a 30 percent decline in riders over the past years, Rank wants employees and customers to know they’re not alone.

“We’re all in this together, and we’re going to do our part to keep you guys safe, and we’re going to be there for you. We understand that we have a job; we have a duty to the residents in Pinellas County to keep them moving in a safe way. We’re going to have all our buses sanitized, disinfected in a safe manner,” she said.

“To our employees, we could not do this without them. They are our frontline workers. They are the heart of Pinellas County. They keep us moving. We are forever thankful for their service to keep us moving.”

Each organization is expected to announce formal plans in the coming weeks.

Devonta Davis is the WUSF Noble Radio News Intern for the spring 2021 semester.
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