The options are: 1) To remain as they currently are, retaining their independent legal status and manage their respective services. 2) To agree to a "Formal Partnering" or "Joint Powers" agreement, in which they collaborate much more extensively through a formal agreement to act in unison. 3) To proceed with a full-on merger, where both HART and PSTA dissolve and are reformed as one new organization representing transit on both sides of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala doesn't like any of those options.
"It's frustrating to have a conversation like this when we have work on our board that needs to take us in a certain direction. This might be the greatest thing ... in a few years, but today my voters are not going to approve additional funding unless I can can show them how it's a system that is going to benefit them."
Latvala added that she thought the whole idea of a merger seemed like a futile effort, and "we'll all end up being more frustrated than we are today."
The idea of a merger was first floated more than a year ago by Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala, who said it was worth studying to see if the two agencies might be able to save duplication and money by forming a board along the likes of Tampa Bay Water.
But while many members of HART's board have expressed unease about that possibility, Pinellas transit agency board members have been more reserved in their criticisms.
After reading the draft of the study done by the McCollum Management Consulting group, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said all she could see were "increased costs."
"We're looking at Armageddon here," she said of the prospect of dismantling both transit agencies. "Getting people to work is critical right now ... and getting people to education ought to be second. I think it's way too premature."
The consultant's draft report lists various costs for different issues that would be required in order to complete a full-on merger. Page nine of the 24-page report lists an inter-county bus study that would cost $125,000, and a cost-allocation study about designating expenses to HART and PSTA would cost $25,000.
St. Pete City Councilman Wengay Newton said he felt the opposite as Latvala and Murman, and he doesn't believe status quo is an option.
"I've heard a zillion reasons why we shouldn't do anything, but I haven't heard any good reason why we shouldn't do something," he said.
He added that he went to a recent transit summit in Miami, and heard complaints about Tampa not having it's "act together" when it comes to transit.
Board member John Melendez responded to Newton by saying the fact that Hillsborough doesn't have a light rail system is not because legislators have been derelict, but that county voters overwhelmingly rejected the transit tax measure on the 2010 ballot.
Board members from both transit agencies will meet up again next month, and must have their plan completed by January. The bill passed in the Florida Legislature that mandated this study requires the plan to be completed by the beginning of February.
The discussions continue while at the same time PSTA is conducting an Alternatives Analysis, a required study to determine the best transit plan to present to both Pinellas voters and the federal government for possible funding. In 2013, Pinellas County Commissioners are expected to decide on putting a sales-tax measure on the ballot to help fund construction of a light-rail system running from St. Petersburg to Clearwater.