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Pinellas County veterans receive free public transportation thanks to USF student's initiative

A group of people standing together in front of a bus
Steven Brown / Courtesy
USF St. Petersburg students and faculty are joined by Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA (front, far left), Pinellas County Commissioner and PSTA Board of Director member Chris Latvala (front, 2nd from left), and PSTA employees during an event announcing free bus rides for Pinellas County veterans.

Veterans in Pinellas County are now able to ride any PSTA bus for free. It was made possible by a USF political science student who took a project proposal to the board of directors.

Veterans in Pinellas County are now able to ride any PSTA bus for free, thanks to a University of South Florida St. Petersburg student who decided to take a class project to the next level.

Steven Brown is a senior majoring in political science. He served as a fighter jet mechanic in the Navy for four years.

For his final project in Florida Politics and Government, a course taught by Associate Professor Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, Brown, along with his classmates Nathan Tout-Puissand and Andrew Alan, had to tackle an issue in government and propose a solution to the relevant institution involved.

Brown came up with the idea of helping facilitate public transportation for veterans when he was near the Bay Pines VA Health Care bus stop and noticed something unusual.

“Veterans are not going to have to bear the financial responsibility of public transportation anymore, which is going to improve their daily lives exponentially.”
Steven Brown

“I was parking my car and I was looking at the bus stop, and it was full of vets — it was like a light switch moment,” he said. “Looking at the vets, I’m saying ‘Why are these guys paying for public transportation?’ I think the least we can do is get them back and forth to the doctor.”

After pitching his project idea to Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters after a ‘Women in Politics’ panel in St. Petersburg, Brown and his group were motivated to take a formal proposal to the PSTA board of directors.

“We started diving into the books, we're looking at census data, we're looking at percentages of veterans that are disabled versus just regular veterans,” he said. “What is the need?”

Their initial proposal was to make public transportation free for disabled veterans only.

“I thought that was an easy ask and a good pitch. The financial burden wouldn’t be too crazy,” Brown said.

Man sitting down, holding an award.
Steven Brown / Courtesy
Steven Brown served as a fighter jet mechanic in the U.S. Navy from 2014 to 2018 in Lemoore, California.

In May, the board voted on his proposal. To Brown’s surprise, PSTA Board Member Chris Latvala expanded the motion to every veteran in Pinellas County.

The PSTA’s Veterans Pass Program went into effect on November 10 — a day before Veterans Day.

It allows all Pinellas’ military veterans to ride PSTA's fixed routes for no cost, ensuring they have accessible and affordable transportation options.

According to a 2021 U.S. Census Bureau report, there are more than 70,000 veterans living in Pinellas who will be able to benefit from PSTA Veterans Pass free bus rides.

Brown is certain that this change will have a positive impact on the veteran community.

“Veterans are not going to have to bear the financial responsibility of public transportation anymore, which is going to improve their daily lives exponentially,” he said.

After the motion passed, Brown got involved with the Bay Pines Community Veterans Engagement Board. He now aims to tackle other issues related to veterans' safety, not only in Pinellas, but across the state.

He was thankful to his instructor, Scourfield McLauchlan, for the opportunity that came out of her class.

“She is the best professor I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “You should know the law (in Florida), and you should be able to get in contact with your government, your elected officials, and she provides this pathway for that class.”

Veterans who want to ride PSTA buses for free should follow the instructions below:

  • Present appropriate ID at a PSTA Customer Service Center to receive a Flamingo Fares Card.
  • Visit a Customer Service Center once monthly with appropriate ID to renew the Veterans Pass.

Accepted forms of identification include:

  • Veterans Identification Card (VIC)
  • Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC)
  • Military ID
  • Florida Driver’s License with Veteran Designation

For more information about PSTA Veterans Pass Program, click here.

João Victor Pina is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for fall of 2023.
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