Councilor Patti Johnson, center, was named The Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged’s 2016 Elected Official of the Year.
PINELLAS PARK – The Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged selected Councilor Patti Johnson as its 2016 Elected Official of the Year. She was honored at a Dec. 14 ceremony in Jacksonville.
In addition to being a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board member, Johnson is also a part of Forward Pinellas’ Local Coordinating Board. She’s served as chair of the LCB, which oversees the group’s Transportation Disadvantaged Program, since 2014. The program provides transportation assistance to economically and physically disadvantaged Pinellas County citizens.
Johnson, who is a court-appointed guardian for the 6th Judicial Court and serves as an elder care consultant, says there is a common misconception about what “transportation disadvantaged” means.
“One of the things people don’t understand is that the transportation disadvantaged is not just the elderly and handicapped,” she said. “It also affects the financially disadvantaged.”
As an advocate, much of her work for the transportation disadvantaged does assist the elderly and handicapped individuals. But often, she said, many people who live at or below the poverty line might be able to find a job but have no way of getting to work.
In fact, she said, there are a number of programs out there helping people find jobs and putting them through necessary schooling.
“But the problem is they can’t get there,” Johnson said.
She added, “So if I can help someone get to work, I’m glad.”
She points to the PSTA’s Direct Connect program, a transit partnership program with Uber and Lyft, that was launched in 2016. The program brings in private drivers from the ridesharing services to bring individuals to bus stops as well as their daily destinations. Often, she said, many busses stop running after 9 p.m., which hurts those who work night shifts.
“So they can get to work, but they can’t get home,” Johnson said.
On the other side of the coin are those who work early morning shifts, particularly those in the healthcare industry, who often have to be at work by 6 a.m., before buses are running.
Not only does the advocacy of groups like the LCB have an effect on individuals, she said, but getting people to and from work is a boon to the local economy.
The biggest problem, she added, is that many people don’t realize there are programs like the partnership with ridesharing services available to them. So a big part of what she does is spread the word by meeting with local organizations, schools, nonprofit agencies and governmental bodies.
Through her work with the PSTA and the LCB, she has travelled to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to meet with state and national leaders and to secure funding for local programs for the transportation disadvantaged, as well.
Johnson said she was “shocked” and “happy” about the award, but also gives credit to the staff at the PSTA and others working with the LCB.
In a press release, she said, “I am humbled by this special recognition and could not have done it alone. I would like to thank all of those who have dedicated their time and effort to improving transportation options in order to increase the freedom of mobility for those in need.”
“As chairwoman of the Pinellas County LCB, Patti has been a tireless and passionate advocate for the transportation disadvantaged,” said fellow PSTA board member and LCB vice chair Brian Scott in a press release. “Whether it is managing the transportation providers, overall program oversight, or taking her own time to travel to Tallahassee and meet with legislative leaders with ideas to enhance the program, she recognizes the TD community depends on this program to provide for so many of life’s basic sustaining needs. I can think of no better person more deserving of this award than Patti Johnson.”