Extra chairs were needed to seat nearly 100 citizens at a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority [PSTA] strategic planning workshop Monday afternoon.
"We see that a handful of opponents have been really vocal on this issue and they've jumped out in front," said Tim Martin, a leader of a new group called Awake Pinellas. "We're building a coalition of people that are in support of mass transit options, so that includes the environmental community, people from the neighborhoods and also people from the business community around St. Petersburg and the county at large."
The "transit options" include light rail, bus rapid transit, more regular and shuttle bus services, and pedestrian and bicycle improvements—any of which will require much more money than a current transit property tax generates.
So the possibility of a new "transit sales tax" is in play, and a group called No Tax For Tracks has been monitoring PSTA and county commission meetings for months.
Barbara Haselden, one of that group's leaders, looked at the overflow crowd Monday and said "I think that we're seeing pushback to the No Tax for Tracks."
Many of the citizens at Monday's meeting also belong to the local Sierra Club, which supports alternatives to conventional cars and trucks.
The Sierra Club's Phil Compton told FOX 13 News "We believe it's very important to have [this] conversation in Pinellas County. It doesn't mean we're going to do this that or the other...it's going to be democracy in action as much as we possibly can at the grassroots, at the community level."
Haselden agreed with the transit supporters on that point.
"This is heating up, and if you're concerned...whether you're for it or against it, you need to come to these meetings before decisions are made for you," she said.
However, it could be a long conversation.
"We're really going to spend the rest of this year and into next year developing the countywide transportation plan," said PSTA chairman Jeff Danner. "Then we'll discuss how we're going to pay for it."
Danner told those attending Monday's meeting there would be no public forum, however.
"You will see throughout this is that there's going to be a whole lot of opportunity for public comment moving forward," he said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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