Monday, April 14, 2014

Tampa Bay Transportation Roundup to Keep Up

There is a lot happening with the transportation issue in Tampa Bay.  Here's a roundup to keep up with what's going on this issue.

We'll start with the most serious matter - the issue of a taxpayer funded entity using tax dollars against the taxpayers. 

The Eye previously posted here, here and here about the egregious activities that PSTA's taxpayer funded Greenlight Pinellas advocacy campaign has been doing under a false claim of "education". We reported that PSTA's CEO Brad Miller spoke at the kick off event of the private advocacy campaign "Yes for Greenlight" in February on taxpayer time and dime. We wondered who Miller was "educating" speaking to a group of people who already support the referendum. That was a collaboration rah rah event not an education session. Is that even legal? 

PSTA CEO Brad Miller speaks at Yes for Greenlight,
private pro Greenlight advocacy campaign's kick off event 

Thankfully, state senator Jeff Brandes asked for an investigation and the Tampa Bay Times reported:
The state Department of Transportation launched an investigation Thursday into how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority spent public money to educate voters about Greenlight Pinellas.
Common sense tells us that Greenlight Pinellas, hiring PR firm Tucker Hall and spending almost a million dollars of taxpayer money, is an advocacy/marketing campaign encouraging voters to support the Greenlight Pinellas referendum. If the common sense answer is not provided with this investigation of Greenlight, then don't our electioneering laws need reforming?


The first campaign filing for the private pro rail PAC "Friends of Greenlight" was filed.
 The SaintPetersblog reported:
According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website, of the nearly forty donations the committee received through March 31— totaling $66,350 in cash and $7,084 if in-kind offerings — the largest contributor was a $50,000 check from utility giant Duke Energy. The Pinellas Realtor Organization also gave $10,000. 
Advocacy group Tampa Bay Partnership chipped in with administrative services worth $6,781 and $266 in office supplies while TBP chair Barry Alpert gave $1,000. 
Palm Springs-based SEIU Florida Public Services Union also donated $2,500
Same playbook as 2010. Duke Energy of the Tampa Bay Partnership seeded Friends of Greenlight with $50K like SunTrust of the Tampa Bay Partnership seeded the initial $50K to Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010. The circle of Tampa Bay Partnership money goes round and round for rail.
SunTrust donates $50,000 to Moving Hillsborough Forward 3/26/2010


The results of a recent poll of "likely voters" in Pinellas commissioned by SaintPetersblog and done by professional organization StPetePolls show the referendum in trouble:
Just 29% of likely voters say they plan to vote ‘Yes’ to “approve the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum and sales tax increase on the ballot in November.” Forty-eight percent are opposed to the plan, while 23% say they are unsure.
Even when asked if they would favor the referendum if the sales tax increase was smaller and funding only went toward buses with no light rail provision, a majority of likely voters opposed the plan (52% to 23%).
Interesting results after PSTA spent $400K of taxpayer dollars last year to launch and lobby Greenlight Pinellas and they are spending another $400K of taxpayer dollars this year. 


There is lots of confusion surrounding the Howard Frankland bridge. Does Greenlight Pinellas goes over the bridge? NO. 

The  FDOT 5 year work plan has the Howard Frankland Bridge replacement project in the District 7 plan. FDOT agreed to spend $25 million to include some infrastructure to accommodate future premium transit. The Tampa Bay Times reported late last year:
At the Tampa Bay Partnership breakfast (emphasis mine), Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said his agency has committed to spending $25 million on a substructure that would strengthen the bridge span, FDOT officials said. 
"We're not building any amenities but rather we're making the structure strong enough to build a light rail," said Ming Gao, FDOT planning manager.
Gao said the project is still in the study phase, so the announcement does not alter previous progress. 
The bridge was built in 1959 and is structurally worn. Current plans include swapping out the bridge with a new one that looks much similar. But the new design would include room on either the side or middle lanes for "transit envelopes," or spaces where buses, tolled express lanes or a light rail could fit (emphasis mine).
We did find this from FDOT letter in 2012:
FDOT was already considering managed/bus toll lanes
and congestion pricing
The outcome of the Greenlight Pinellas referendum could weigh into the final decision but here's some cost information regarding the replacement and adding some type of transit:
  • "The price to replace just four lanes of roadway will be about $367 million" FDOT said. That does not include relieving the traffic bottleneck at the Tampa International Airport/Memorial Highway interchange.
  • If the project adds two express lanes in each direction to accommodate bus rapid transit and cars paying tolls to avoid the free, congested lanes, the cost would increase by $339 million to $706 million.  
  • And if the new bridge were built to accommodate a transit exclusive guideway — a corridor for either light rail or bus — the cost would increase by $989 million to $1.36 billion. That price would include additional work in both Hillsborough and Pinellas to accommodate an enhanced transit system and link with new transit terminals."
Adding bus/managed toll lanes is LESS than 2 times the cost of replacing the bridge while adding light rail would cost 4 times MORE than the cost of replacing the bridge.  Bus/managed toll lanes are more cost-effective, would be higher utilized, it is user pays based on the individuals decision and the revenue generated would go back into improving and maintaining the toll lanes. Light rail would be high cost, lower utilized, the fares are highly subsidized by all taxpayers whether they ever use it or not, it would not relieve congestion and a new long term revenue source would need to be found to keep it operating.


The Hillsborough County PTC continues to be a problem. The PTC has a history of corruption and cronyism. They hired a lobbyist last year and the taxi cab industry hired their own lobbyists to descend on Tallahassee. The PTC Chairman County Commissioner Victor Crist even recently went up to Tallahassee. The PTC truly is a three ring circus as we posted before here, here and here. State senator Brandes and State representative Grant have been trying to reign in the PTC and burdensome regulations but it's difficult against an entrenched industry who wants to protect their turf and inhibit competition.  

The Tampa Bay Times recently reported on Brandes and Grant's bills in the state legislature and Uber and Lyft moving forward to provide service.
Lyft is going rogue. The ride-sharing service, which uses a smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers who use their personal vehicles, began accepting passengers in Tampa on Friday evening.Under Grant's revised proposal, special districts could not impose a minimum wait time or fare on app-based commercially licensed driver services, such as town cars and limousines. Special districts would also be prohibited from restricting the number of available limousine permits.
While the bill would make way for Uber's black car service to operate here, it would not affect ride-sharing services such as Lyft, which the PTC considers a taxicab company. 
Lyft, which bills itself as a technology company, sees things differently. 
"Lyft's new peer-to-peer model does not easily fit into existing frameworks," Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said in an email Friday, "which is why we created a strict set of safety standards that are far more strict than what's required of taxis and limos."
The Tribune reported Friday:
Uber, a ridesharing service that lets customers use a smartphone to find a driver, said late Friday afternoon the company has started offering its UberX service in Tampa. The announcement comes only a few days after Lyft, which offers a similar service, began operating in the city. 
Both are part of a new wave of companies offering services that challenge the way traditional taxi and limousine services operate. With UberX and Lyfft, customers use an app to find drivers, who often aren’t professional drivers and use their own cars. Rates can fluctuate and could rise during high-demand periods.
Safety issues, background checks, licensing and insurance liability can all be dealt with without the burdensome PTC. Technology and the Internet allows anyone who uses these new services to immediately rate the service they were provided for all the world to see.  That's quicker than any PTC regulator could ever report. Technology can and should rid us of some bureaucracy.


We continue to follow what is going on with TBARTA as we've reported TBARTA has numerous issues. It appears now there is a proposal to merge/consolidate the MPO's Chairs Coordinating Committee into TBARTA. At a meeting Friday of the West Central Florida Metropolitan Planning Organizations Chairs Coordinating Committee Staff Directors Workshop, this presentation was about the consolidation. 

TBARTA was not originally established to fairly represent, on a proportional population basis, the counties it represents. TBARTA was created in 2007 at the behest of the special interest organization Tampa Bay Partnership and the Partnership has always appeared to have dominate influence over TBARTA. Friday's presentation confirmed that influence. This is one of the recommendation's from the consolidation presentation: 
Coordinate legislative priorities developed by TBARTA, MPO's
and Tampa Bay Partnership, secure funding as "one voice"
Tampa Bay Partnership is not elected nor appointed but they do have dominate influence over TBARTA. When a special interest has that much influence, isn't that cronysim? Would the Partnership then have dominate influence over the MPO's too with this consolidation? This should be raised as a concern and a red flag for the MPO's to NOT merge into TBARTA.  


We'll end with a video from NoTaxForTracks Pinellas At the Annual Oldsmar Parade.  
Lots of resounding NO's in Oldsmar to raising their taxes to pay for a train. These are people who actually live and vote in Pinellas and not deep pocketed special interest groups or people who don't even live in Pinellas and can't vote on Greenlight.

1 comment:

  1. If GLP is a true public education campaign, Brad Miller should have educated the Clearwater City Council about the true light rail alignment through their city before he asked them to endorse the campaign, which they did unanimously. Instead, Miller deliberately hid the truth from them. That's not public education, that is political strategy. Is the Clearwater City Council still unanimous in their support for GLP now that they know the light rail will be built along Missouri Avenue and Gulf to Bay Boulevard? Why won't the Tampa Bay Times ask that question?