TBARTA taps RSA Consulting, Suskey Consulting for first-ever lobbying contract

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority tapped RSA Consulting and Suskey Consulting to manage its state-level lobbying now that the agency is under new leadership and focuses more on regional transit.

The firms will try to draw down recurring state funding for the agency’s operations and identify funding for the proposed 42-mile bus rapid transit route connecting downtown St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.

The Legislature previously approved changing TBARTA from a transportation agency narrowly focused on long-range planning and a vanpool service to a regional transit authority overseeing projects to better connect Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties.

While the Legislature approved the shift in focus, it did not provide any operating funds on a recurring basis, which hamstrung the agency executing its new mission.

Alan Suskey, president of Suskey Consulting, said the firm has an idea of how much money they’ll seek from lawmakers in the 2019 Legislative session, but those numbers have not yet been approved.

RSA, led by veteran lobbyist Ron Pierce and includes Natalie King and Edward Briggs, and Suskey, along with his colleagues Donovan Brown and RJ Myers, also work for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The TBARTA board approved the contract with the two firms last month during its regular meeting after considering the team’s success in drawing down state funds for PSTA and helping the agency land innovative new partnerships.

Pierce and Suskey helped secure $1 million in funding for PSTA to conduct a corridor study along the Clearwater Causeway evaluating the feasibility of a dedicated lane for transit. They also secured $500,000 in funding for the Central Avenue BRT route in St. Pete that will eventually connect downtown St. Pete to the Gulf beaches along First Avenues North and South.

The team was also behind the first-in-the-nation partnership between a transit agency and ride-sharing company Uber offering free rides to low-income transit users.

PSTA’s TD Late Shift allows people who are considered ‘transportation disadvantaged’ to use Uber during times when buses don’t run. The service is particularly helpful for riders who work third shifts and aren’t able to catch a bus to or from work.

“As a result of that success, TBARTA hired us to represent them in front of the Legislature,” Suskey said.

Pierce and Suskey will continue to represent PSTA in addition to its new duties with TBARTA. Suskey has an office in Pinellas County and tends to focus on matters on that side of Tampa Bay while RSA is more focused on Hillsborough County.