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Study sees no savings from transit merger

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Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 09:04 PM
TAMPA -

A consultant evaluating a possible merger or more cooperation between the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit systems reported there would be no cost savings from combining services or maintenance operations.

A committee of Hillsborough Area Transit Authority and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board members discussed a draft report by McCollom Management Consulting on Monday that also indicated it would cost more than $1.1 million for a formal partnering of the transit services and about $1.9 million for a full merger.

It could be possible to save $2.4 million annually by consolidating senior staff, the consultant said, but Steven Polzin, a University of South Florida transportation professor and HART board member challenged that figure.

Polzin cited examples, including one from a combined transit operation in Virginia, in which salaries for management soared as operations doubled.

Others from both boards on the consolidation committee criticized parts of the report.

"We are putting the cart before the horse," said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, a PSTA board member. Latvala questioned whether the report spells out the true costs of a merger.

Her concerns were echoed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a HART board member. "I read this report after watching the Bucs win Sunday when I was in a good mood."

Murman added: "I was not in a good mood when I finished. I think at this point a merger … is out of the question. The increased costs would lead to Armageddon."

Latvala's ex-husband, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, pushed legislation earlier this year that requires HART and PSTA to study operational efficiencies, which board members view as a buzzword for merger. Jack Latvala could not be reached for comment on the McCollum Management study.

Wengay "Newt" Newton, PSTA board member and St. Petersburg city council member, changed the discussion at Monday's meeting from merger to what he called a serious lack of transit services.

Newton referred to a recent fact-finding visit to Miami by elected and business officials from West Central Florida organized by U.S. Rep John Mica, R-Winter Park, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The group saw the results of billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements for transportation serving the Port of Miami, a ground transportation hub at Miami International Airport, managed lanes on highways and rail links in the area.

Such sweeping changes aren't part of the consolidation committee's mandate, but Newton said the need for improved transit on the Suncoast is urgent.

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