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Unveiling of a PSTA bus wrap to announce the new policy that veterans will ride buses for free in Pinellas County.

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. Photo by Todd Post.

Student proposal leads to free bus rides for Pinellas County veterans

By Matthew Cimitile, University Communications and Marketing

What started as an idea by a student in a USF government class has become official policy: Veterans can now ride public buses for free in Pinellas County.

The proposal, spearheaded by USF St. Petersburg student and Navy veteran Steven Brown along with Nathan Tout-Puissant, Andrew Alan and Navaeh Coleman, came out of a class where students tackle an issue and present their solution to the relevant governing body.

Brown decided to pursue the issue of veteran transportation based on his experiences at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in St. Petersburg, Fla. During such visits, he noticed how many veterans were always at the bus stop, either waiting for a ride or getting dropped off.

“It’s constant,” Brown said, who was a E-4 fighter jet maintainer in the Navy. “One of the biggest issues is getting veterans to and from their medical appointments because some don’t have a car and others have disabilities that prevent them from driving.”

In March, the group of students presented their proposal to allow Pinellas County disabled veterans to ride public buses for free in front of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) Board of Directors and received a positive response. On May 24, the board took up a vote on the proposal and approved it overwhelmingly. 

“This proposal will improve access to medical care while cutting costs for disabled vets. It will also improve quality of life, making it more convenient to go to the grocery store or visit family more often,” Brown said.

Students present proposal at PSTA.

Steven Brown (far right) and students Andrew Alan and Nathan Tout-Puissant (center) presented their proposal for free public bus rides for disabled veterans in front of the PSTA Board of Directors, including Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA (left).

The board then went one step further, passing a motion to allow all Pinellas County veterans to ride PSTA buses for free starting November 10, 2023. 

“It is a worthwhile expense and I believe we have the capacity to do this,” said Pinellas County Commissioner and PSTA board of director member Chris Latvala, who made the motion to include all veterans at the meeting. “People who defend our country should be at the top of the list of those deserving free rides on our buses.”

For months, Brown had been in touch with PSTA staff members, including James Phillips, a transit planner and fellow veteran who was instrumental in making the proposal a reality. He also engaged with officials in city and county government to accomplish his goal. His persistence paid off.

“This group of students identified a relevant problem, researched possible solutions, developed a viable proposal and presented a strong case,” said Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, the Frank E. Duckwall Professor of Florida Studies who taught the class. “I had advised them to start small, with a pilot program, for greater probability of success. But PSTA leaders saw the real benefit this change would have on our community and decided to expand it.”

Brown spent the intervening months between passage and enactment of the policy working to get the word out about the free transit, so veterans in the county take full advantage. 

"Steven embodies the qualities that were instilled in us during our time in the military. One that especially shines through is selfless service, as he is always looking to find ways to serve others. That is just one of the values that veterans bring to our campus,” said Todd Post, assistant director of the Office of Veteran Services on the St. Petersburg campus.

Brown is now hoping to expand his idea beyond just Pinellas County. He is in talks with state representatives, members of Congress and various veterans’ organizations to take the proposal statewide. 

“This class really got me to think how you can affect real change in society if you have the tools and motivation at your disposal,” Brown said, who plans on advocating for veteran issues his entire life. “It’s been an honor to be able to make a positive change that improves the community welfare of veterans.”

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