Monday, January 13, 2014

What's Down the Road with Transit?

Today's online Tribune today includes this article, HART future overshadowed by potential merger, Pinellas tax vote.  It reports about the success of MetroRapid. MetroRapid is Hillsborough county's first Bus Rapid Transit launched last June by our local transit agency, HART. Interesting is the Tribune's print version of the same article is titled "Speeding ahead MetroRapid route helps HART set record in 2013 but what's down the road?" We are left wondering wondering why the online version has such a negative title.

Here at the Eye we applaud the success of the MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  It was built in 1 year and at 1/60 the cost of the 2010 proposed high cost light rail along the same transit corridor. We'd still be waiting for the high cost light rail because it would've taken at least a decade to build. 
HART MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit
In fact HART's 10 year plan is ALL buses. Their visionary plan is to build out more BRT routes. HART is being fiscally responsible because these plans only become part of their actual operating budget when the funding is there and available to support building out the routes. Novel idea to live within your means? Buses are much more flexible, cost-effective and efficient and they get people to where they actually want to go. Buses can be more easily deployed to get to the far reaches of our 1100 square mile county. According to MPO plans, we do not see any trains to Brandon, Apollo Beach, Plant City or Odessa anytime in the next 20 years.

Merging HART and PSTA was never an answer because the two are run differently: their taxing is different, their cost structures are different and their unions are different. They already coordinate, including bus schedules, where it makes sense.  Both agencies voted against a merger after the first merger study. The second $200K study was a waste of taxpayer dollars. What difference does a year later make when these agencies are attempting to plan 50 years in the future?

Now Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) is trolling for money and a purpose as today's Tribune article reports
the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and CSX have said they could begin discussions of using freight railroad track through the Tampa Bay region for commuter services, although who might run such trains is uncertain.
Therefore, yes, we all will be watching commuter SunRail because all Florida taxpayers are paying to build it and then to operate it between 2014 and 2020. The DOT ridership requirements were waived to enable SunRail to get federal funds. SunRail costs at least $1.3 Billion and we're told it "may" take 3400 vehicles off of I-4 in the future.  But 200,000 vehicles today are on I-4 today.  Do the math and we're spending $1.3 Billion to take less than 2% of vehicles off of I-4. Currently the local municipalities who must take over operating SunRail in 2021 have NO long term funding source to do so. In addition, since SunRail does not go where anyone is going, FDOT is spending $900K a year to pay for buses to pick up passengers off of SunRail to get them where they actually need to go.  Will SunRail end up like these commuter rail systems where this article states
Commuter trains really only make sense serving places with large numbers of jobs concentrated in one urban center. The only places like that in the United States–New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia–already have commuter trains. The concept is doomed to failure everywhere else.
Back to Pinellas.  Pinellas's proposal for a $100 million annual tax increase is for their Greenlight Pinellas light rail plan. There's basic math problems with their proposal as we have previously reported here and here.

Where is reference to "Greenlight Pinellas" in the Tribune article? It's nowhere to be found. Is the term Greenlight Pinellas toxic too?  Because after Pinellas spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on their Greenlight Pinellas marketing campaign advocating to raise Pinellas sales tax 14%, support for the light rail plan has fallen.

As voters and taxpayers are now finding out "what's actually in the Greenlight Pinellas plan", they don't like it.  Sound familiar?

1 comment:

  1. No single mode of transportation is going to fully serve the needs of the greater Tampa Bay area or I-4 corridor. The biggest criticism of transportation in this region is its lack of variety, but as you point out the strength of expanding the bus system is it's flexibility to go where ever there are roads. Long term this is beneficial as certain areas densify and others become less advantageous. On the topic of rail, I think it is essential to a healthy multimodal system as a connection between major municipalities when the independent travel authorities are unwilling to provide convenient and reliable transportation outside of their region of operation. Having affordable and inclusive transportation networks would improve the vitality of the tourism industry across the state and let florida residents travel in a more cost effective way, giving them (and tourists that visit us) more money to spend when they reach their destinations.