Monday, February 20, 2017

Here We Go Again: Another Transportation Campaign

Tampa Bay taxpayers keep enriching the same consultants on our transportation issue over and over and over.

After taxpayers spent $1.2 million on the Go Hillsborough debacle, taxpayers are currently funding a $1.6 million study on expanding the failed streetcar.

And now we have the latest $1.5 million taxpayer funded "let's hire a new consultant same as the old consultant" gig. How did this one come about and what are they doing? We'll connect some dots.

While taxpayers were still paying Parsons Brinckerhoff in 2015 for Go Hillsborough and the sales tax hike was still being considered, the Transportation Management Association (TMA) was talking trains - again. The TMA are electeds and transportation officials representing the MPO's of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. Their meetings are well attended by insiders and special interests but fly under the radar of the general public because most do not know this group exists.

In October of 2015 the Tampa Tribune reported CSX tracks may be route to commuter rail's future.

The November 2015 TMA meeting focused on commuter rail, SunRail, the CSX corridor and how to get into the federal funding grant program for transit.

At the January 5, 2016 MPO meeting, FDOT presented the concept of passenger service on CSX-owned freight rail corridors. The presentation included the chart below depicting a hybrid rail pilot project from downtown to USF using a hybrid rail car that can run on freight tracks similar to what the city of Austin implemented. They also admit it would take 24-31 minutes to go from downtown Tampa to USF by train while  driving that trip today during rush hour is about 30 minutes, and of course less during non-rush hours.
Hybrid Rail Pilot Project presented at
January 5, 2016 MPO meeting
Rail projects require millions and billions of dollars and a committed long term revenue source to get federal funding. So the TMA invited transit lobbyist Jason Jordan, as we posted here, to their April 2016 meeting to present how to win sales tax hike referendums.

All of this led to FDOT handing HART $1.5 million last year to fund something… and hire another consultant. As reported by the Tampa Tribune last March:
Headed up by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, or HART, the study will determine how to connect Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties through various forms of public transit. 
The scope of work for the study is now being determined, after which a consultant will be hired, said HART CEO Katharine Eagan. 
“At this point, we are meeting with members of the Transportation Management Association, which has members from each county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, talking about what to do in this corridor. Specifically, we are looking at connections between the three counties, which could include rail infrastructure.”
At least HART used an RFP to procure the work (unlike Go Hillsborough). HART's RFP was titled Tampa Bay Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Study and can be found here.

The scope of this work is not a feasibility study. The scope is to create and sell to the public a regional transit plan for projects to pursue federal grant money, e.g. New Starts.

A selection committee representing Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco rated the three vendors who responded to the RFP. Based on their ratings, Jacobs Engineering was awarded the $15. million contract. Jacobs did the alternatives analysis for the failed Greenlight Pinellas and was a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff on Go Hillsborough.

The 128 page Jacobs response to HART's RFP is found here. Most of it is boiler plate stuff but the work is not a feasibility study. Jacobs will review and update past studies, not do another study and they include many of the same people who worked on HART's 2010 rail project, Greenlight Pinellas and Go Hillsborough.

Like Parsons Brinckerhoff did with Go Hillsborough, Jacobs Engineering brings their PR firm B2 Communications attached to this work effort. Lots of the same public engagement elements as Go Hillsborough are included: focus groups, tele-townhalls, polling, social media, branding, coalition building, targeted outreach, etc.

B2 Communications also worked on the failed Greenlight Pinellas campaign. They presented their Lessons Learned at the 2015 Transit Initiatives and Communities Conference sponsored by the transit advocacy/lobbying group Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE). These CFTE conferences are billed as "the only national conference exclusively devoted to understanding transportation ballot measures and providing concrete advice on how to win."

Unfortunately oddly missing in this effort is our own transportation think tank at USF, the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR).  Why?

After the contract was awarded to Jacobs, they requested the name of the work be changed to Regional Premium Transit Plan to more appropriately fit the work scope they are doing.

So at the January 10, 2017 Pinellas County Commission meeting where Katherine Eagan, CEO of HART presented she called this work a plan as TBNweekly reported (emphasis mine):
The goal is to come up with three priority projects supported by all parties that will meet Federal Transit Administration’s requirements for capital and/or operations funding. The goal is to complete work on the plan by September 2018. The plan will include coming up with a consensus about who will build the projects, who will run them and how they will be paid for. Eagan said the purpose of the evaluation plan was to determine the most competitive projects for federal funding.
While taxpayers are funding another consultant, taxpayers have already paid for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco MPO's to complete their federally mandated 25 year Long Range Transportation Plans (LRTP's) and five year Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP's).

In addition, taxpayers have already paid TBARTA to create a Regional Master Plan:
The 2015 Master Plan update builds upon previous updates, refining the regional networks and outlining a strategic vision for implementation. New to this update, the TBARTA Master Plan will serve as the Regional LRTP, a plan previously completed by the West Central Florida MPO Chairs Coordinating Committee (CCC). To join the plans, changes were made to the Regional Networks to more closely reflect the combined priorities and vision of the two entities. 
All of these plans were created collaboratively through robust public engagement according to all the agencies creating them.

Jacobs presentation during the HART RFP process does not start off with a problem statement about our transportation and mobility issues that needs addressing. They start with lessons learned for why taxpayers rejected previous sales tax hikes to fund transit.

This Jacobs slide is striking because it appears this is Jacobs problem statement - not addressing our mobility issues.
Jacobs RFP Presentation
Does Jacobs think Tampa Bay voters and taxpayers are stupid? Apparently, we have not been educated enough after millions of dollars, including tons of taxpayer money and resources, have been spent on education campaigns trying to sell voters and taxpayers to raise taxes for costly rail/transit solutions.

And that must be why according to their slide below, more than half of Jacob's work effort is public engagement.
Jacobs Engineering $1.5 million
Regional Premium Transit Plan

Ironically, Jacobs states there is a need to listen to the public but the public has consistently stated fixing our roads is the highest priority.

But here we go again. The same echo chamber of consultants, PR firms and special interests who keep trying to sell us on costly trains are at it again.

If it walks and squawks like another taxpayer funded PR campaign, it is another PR campaign.

And this time it has gone regional.


Commuter rail ridership in Austin DECLINED 11% third quarter 2016 according to the latest APTA ridership numbers just published. Total transit ridership in Austin is less than it was 18 years ago while their population has grown 66% over that same period.

While we keep being told that Denver is a model to follow for costly rail transit, Downtown Denver survey shows people are opting to drive over using public transit

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long just can’t seem to take the heat

Long went after two of her biggest and most vocal critics Tom Rash and Barb Haselden both long-time activists in the public transit arena.

St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
In Search of Robin
As Commissioner Janet Long attempts to push her regional transit authority idea forward, dissent is mounting. See saintpetersblog, Mitch Perry, Janet Long lashes out at transit critics and my post Bay Area Regional Transit Authority – Janet Long's Dream to Tax you more.
Long has been continually frustrated by failed attempts to get a sales tax referendum passed in Pinellas County so a guaranteed flow of money will be available for pet transportation projects.
A classic example of these regional transit authorities is TBARA of which Long said, “I don’t know if you’ve been to a TBARTA board meeting, but I thought I was going to eat my brains out!” It is four hours of — excuse my expression — bullsh*t. All you do is listen to one study after another study after another presentation, and on and on. They don’t do anything!”
Well said Commissioner. And what makes you think your new taxing authority would be any different?
Long went after two of her biggest and most vocal critics Tom Rash and Barb Haselden both long-time activists in the public transit arena.
Rask and Haselden were both highly active in the failed Pinellas transit sales tax efforts and Long has never really gotten over the Greenlight debacle.
“I really paid attention when Greenlight failed,” Long says, referring to the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas transit tax that went down to defeat. “It frustrates me beyond belief when the Tom Rask‘s and Barb Haselden’s of the world — no matter how hard you try to be thoughtful, be considerate, be creative in terms of trying to provide good public transportation — they will not see anything good in what you do,” she said."
Apparently, she did pay a lot of attention to the 62% defeat of Greenlight since her primary goal is to take transit financing out of the hands of the public and put taxation power in the hands of her new state authorized “Regional Transit Authority.”
Long has a history of attacking the messenger and not getting the message. Fortunately, Rask and Haselden are not intimidated by Long’s often harsh comments and hawkish looks. They speak for many people who would not want to experience Long’s wrath.
It was unfortunate that thanks to some clever Republican Politics Long managed to get reelected. It would be nice if the Commissioner focused her efforts on issues that affect her constituency.
A lot of the work on this regional transit authority will go on just out of public view as Jack Latvala, Janet long and others work to pull the regional authority together with help from the State Legislature with little public input or scrutiny.
That’s where Tom Rask, Barb Haselden, Sharon Calvert and others come in.
Without ongoing watchfulness, this regional taxing authority will be dipping its hand into your wallet to provide “transportation options” that you do not want or need, and that will not meet the real public transportation need.
For now, the first step to any regional transit authority must be the complete and total dissolution of TBARTA and  a firm understanding that none of the TBARTA people will play any role in a new transit authority. Otherwise, the citizens will get a new tax, years of even more expensive studies and little to show for their money.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

HART Amends MOU with PSTA Because Skepticism is Warranted

Yesterday the HART Board (Hillsborough's local transit agency) took up a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with PSTA (Pinellas's local transit agency) that is a legally binding umbrella contract for the agencies to pursue collaboration opportunities.

HART already collaborates so this MOU is not necessary. Best practices with the most protections for taxpayers and HART itself would be for each area of collaboration to be transparently and separately contractually addressed like they have done in the past.

We're all for collaborating when it is mutually beneficial. However, PSTA has been fiscally mismanaged for years and Brad Miller was forced to return $350K of federal transit security funds PSTA misused for Greenlight Pinellas advertising in 2014. HART should always take caution when dealing with PSTA.

The HART Board did decide to move forward with the MOU but it was only after much Board discussion. After a show of opposition from Board members John Melendez, Karen Jaroch and Commissioner Stacy White, the Board did add language recommended by Commissioner Murman to protect Hillsborough County taxpayers and HART's own sovereignty. As SaintPetersblog reported yesterday,
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate and collaborate with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but only after adding additional language clarifying that it is not a move towards a potential merger or a regional sales tax increase.
That is good. Adding such language is appreciated because of the current push for regional decision making and push for regional sales tax funding. And that big regionalism push is coming mostly out of Pinellas County, PSTA, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, and their echo chamber the Tampa Bay Times.

Why is there so much skepticism about the HART-PSTA MOU? 

Because it immediately sprung up after Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long presented her "Regional Council of Governments" proposal to HART last October. 

Because Long's proposal came just as the latest $1.5 million taxpayer funded campaign for the Regional Premium Transit PLAN (a post for another day) had just begun.

But most of all we remember where the Genesis for the merger of HART and PSTA began.

It goes back to the December 2012 joint HART/PSTA meeting (video clip below). 

At that 2012 meeting Senator Latvala states a rail between Pinellas and Hillsborough needs a regional operating authority. Latvala states that he would help with legislation to merge HART and PSTA and create this regional entity via some type of Inter-local agreement that avoids the voters and a referendum.

Why the skepticism? Because at PSTA's Executive Committee meeting held on January 6, 2017, CEO Brad Miller (about 2:00 in video of the meeting) outlines his timeline. PSTA approves the MOU on 1/25, HART approves it on 2/6, and then he and HART CEO Katherine Eagan and their lobbyist(s) go to Tallahassee immediately on 2/7 to jointly present it to our legislators [to ask for funding to implement Long's regional proposal].

Guess what? Brad Miller high tailed it to Tallahassee today, with MOU in hand, as reported by SaintPetersblog.
The MOU is on the checklist for Miller and four PSTA board members – Samantha Fenger, Patti Johnson, Brian Scott, and Joe Barkley – to discuss with legislators today.
What version did Miller take? Did he take the version PSTA approved on 1/25 or the latest version with the changes added yesterday by HART that HART approved? Has PSTA even approved the latest version?  

This kind of disjointedness and disconnect happens when as Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long stated the "timeline is more important than the document".

This is not delusional, this is reality. 

Just look at the chart below presented by Commissioner Janet Long at the January 13 PSTA workshop. Who could not be skeptical of the real intentions of the HART-PSTA MOU and why PSTA and Pinellas County keep pushing their regionalism and merger agenda on Hillsborough County?
Chart from Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long's
Regional Vision she presented at January 13 PSTA workshop
So it is good that the HART Board took protective action yesterday and kudos to them for doing so.

Because the taxpayers must always be protected.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Bay Area Regional Transit Authority – Janet Long's Dream to Tax you more

It's Time to get the band back together. Opposition against this regional transit authority needs to get active now.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet long aided by TBARTA, HART, PSTA their leadership and boards of directors continue the slow steady pace toward a regional transit authority. Essentially a State established entity that would manage public transportation area wide with taxing authority to generate revenue.

This authority would essentially be a mash up of the local public transportation boards into a super board that would manage public transportation development and fund it through either a property or sales tax.

The current local Boards of directors have not been particularly effective and there is little reason to believe that a super board or authority made up of the same folks would do much better.

For example, look at this report by saintpetersblog, Scott Powers, Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold threatens to pull Tri-Rail’s state money.

These Authorities tend to operate out of public view, managed by paid Executive Directors and a paid staff that invests its time in promoting a preconceived idea of "public transit." The result is typical of the Powers story.

The motivation behind this effort is the three failed referendums in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to initiate a sales tax to fund public transportation.

Never mind, the fact that Bay area voters have three times resoundingly rejected the idea of a sales tax to buy the politicians shinny buses and light rail trains, Long and her growing group of supporters want to work their way around all of those pesky referendums and tax you without your ability to have a say.

Like most of these efforts to organize authorities, the real object is money not public transportation. "Public Transportation" is on the banners, signs, ads and promotional materials but what is really at stake is a high-level authority with State authorized taxing powers that the voters cannot regulate.

Few were more aggressive in their support of an angrier when GreenLight Pinellas failed than Janet Long.

Her prime objective is to take the ability to control public transit funding by taxation out of the hands of the public and place the ability to tax you for public transportation in the hands of a carefully picked board that will support the public transit as THEY see it.

Long's regional transit authority is a behind-the-scenes low profile effort to push legislation that will create a taxing authority.

It is time to get the opposition to this regional authority up and running and let legislators know that the Long plan for a regional transit authority is a non-starter with the people who pay the bills and vote.

Let's get NO TAX FOR TRACKS back on the road again.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Battle for Major League Sports Support and dollars heats up.

Bill Edwards and Rick Baker – A powerhouse team looking to make the Rowdies St. Petersburg's premier major league sports franchise.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Some outtakes  from the Trigaux article:
"First, back the Rowdies in its current effort to bump up from the fading NASL to the MLS tier of soccer. Edwards and his as yet unidentified ownership group will submit their MLS application Monday, Jan. 30, just ahead of the end-of month deadline for all interested MLS bidders.

Second, commit to Rowdies season tickets as a tangible sign of support for an MLS team in St. Petersburg. Barring that, sign a letter of support to accompany the MLS application.

Third, buy tickets for and support the upcoming "Rowdies Suncoast Invitational" later in February. It features five MLS soccer clubs playing at Al Lang Stadium, the Rowdies home field. It's the second year for the invitational. And, as Edwards told the chamber crowd, MLS officials will be watching attendance to gauge how bullish the bay area is for soccer."

Best of all, Edwards says he will pay for the new stadium, priced at up to $80 million. In a bigger world of pro sports teams and owners clamoring for public funding for new stadiums, that makes the Edwards' offer all the more compelling.

 Or more succinctly put.
The Rowdies Plan
1. Move the Rowdies from NASL to MLS
2. Support the Rowdies by buying tickets or sending letters of support
3. Support Rowdies Suncoast Invitational in February
4. Build a new Stadium that the Rowdies (Bill Edwards) will pay for.

If the form looks vaguely familiar, check out the Baker Plan of former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker.
The Baker Plan:
1. Improving schools
2. Neighborhoods
3. Public safety
4. Economic development

The comparison here is not necessarily the substance but the form. Each plan has four achievable action points that are easily grasped.

Baker knows how to put a plan together, define it so people understand and execute the plan.

It is quite possible that as the Tampa Bay Rays continue their dance for new stadium, the Tampa Bay Rowdies may become the next big thing in St. Petersburg.

With Bill Edwards and Rick Baker driving the train, now is the time to get on board with the Rowdies.

If you want to be part of the Rowdies Plan, click here Tampa Bay Rowdies and get in the game.

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