Dangle carrots or drive
Why, after half the school year is over, can't local districts fill bus driver positions? The Trib reported Pasco needs 130 drivers, Hernando needs upward of 40 and other local districts are running ads and putting "drivers wanted" stickers on their buses. If you look into the job, it's apparent why they can't fill these positions: The responsibility of being a driver is tremendous. The hours really stink. The pay is awful. You have to take all out-of-school days off with no pay, and there are no paid holidays. You can't collect unemployment in the summer when school is out, even though you pay unemployment insurance, and unless you plan on staying at the bus garage in between pickups in the a.m. and drop-offs in the p.m., you make four trips back and forth to your home every day.
Does that sound like a great job?
You can fix it. Districts up north had to deal with these same problems. Those that solved them found you need to pay people a living wage and benefits other jobs offer. It's not going to be cheap, but if you're going to find decent, reliable help you need to dangle a few carrots or take your kids to school yourself.
Why would I support any agency that overlooks valid options for transportation improvements in Pinellas County? Transportation planners and officials in Pinellas are so quick to spend our money on a light-rail campaign for a low-priority line from St. Pete to Clearwater. They had already hired a public relations firm from Tampa for $300,000 or more, so the vote last week was a done deal.
I am in total support of expanding our transit options in our region and just shake my head at their approach to this challenge and opportunity. Why isn't a rapid-transit bus line being promoted? Other regions are having great success with this low-cost alternative. Why aren't they addressing that we taxpayers have just spent a lot of money upgrading U.S. 19, and traffic flow is vastly improved. Now the road isn't good enough. There is virtually no dialogue about how their rail proposal is any different than the perpetually underutilized and over-budget Tri-Rail in South Florida. That region has much more traffic congestion, and a European, South American and Northeastern U.S. resident base. Those areas are accustomed to urban rail.
Why aren't Pinellas transportation planners and officials fighting for the consolidation, at any level, of TBARTA and HART? Our main priority to reduce congestion is the bridge tie-ups that happen all the time and cost us residents valuable time in our cars, coupled with increasing our gas consumption while sitting in traffic. This train to Clearwater is not a priority. Improving travel between Hillsborough and Pinellas is.
Join the program
It's nice to see our newly elected senator from Pasco County, Wilton Simpson, thinks outside the box. He introduced SB 560 aimed at promoting energy independence in Florida by using natural gas. The savings to taxpayers would be tremendous, and hopefully would cut taxes.
It would be an alternative fuel alongside gasoline and diesel. The House companion bill is being introduced by Rep. Lake Ray from Jacksonville (District 12). Hopefully, the bill will move through the Senate with the support of Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford.
The school system in Leon County had its buses retrofitted to use natural gas several years ago. The buses will get twice the engine life and reduce the cost of fuel by about 50 percent. Waste Management in South Florida and others also are using natural gas. Utility companies around the state use natural gas as an alternative fuel. Long-distance haulers such as J.B. Hunt and others have switched to natural gas. It's time for our leaders, such as county commissioners and superintendents of schools, in the Bay area to join in on this program.
It's not only good for Florida but good for America. The United States has a supply of natural gas that will last for more than 200 years. This means Americans will have good-paying jobs from providing the fuel and retrofitting the engines — along with a cleaner environment.
If you're not happy about paying nearly $4 a gallon at the pump and constantly having your utility bills go up as a result of our dependence on foreign oil, then you should contact your elected officials in Tallahassee. By the time we get it done in Florida, maybe Washington will wake up and realize it should be a national program.