Monday, March 27, 2017

Stop Force Feeding A Regional Transit Authority on Tampa Bay Taxpayers

Regional bureaucracies an arms length away from voters and taxpayers are not more efficient, especially over time. They become less accountable and more powerful, arrogant, crony and wasteful.

We posted here about Latvala's Senate bill 1672 and its companion House bill 1243 that grows the size and scope of government, takes away local control and enables regional taxing. 

Both bills were presented to their first committee meetings this week and passed.

Senate Bill 1672 was presented Wednesday by Senator Latvala to the Senate Transportation Committee. The video is here and Latvala begins at about 1:01:45. Astonishingly at about 1:02:30 Latvala clearly states for TBARTA "to come back to the legislature next year for clarity on what statutes need to be changed to allow Tampa Bay's transit to become more efficient and grow".

So we have to pass the bill first creating this new regional TBARTA transit authority before we can find out how it is funded, who will pay for it and what is being funded? That sounds eerily familiar.

That is bad governance and not fair to the taxpayers.

We do know who wrote the bill for Senator Latvala. At 1:06:00 of the video where Latvala is making his closing statement he acknowledged Tampa Bay Partnership for putting together the bill and giving it to him to run with it. They were huge supporters of all the sales tax hike referendums in Tampa Bay that were defeated.

Latvala is term limited next year but we know he has wanted to merge HART and PSTA for years. His statement Wednesday confirms this bill is just the first of a multi-step process. We can only assume that the next step is to change statutes to enable TBARTA to become a taxing authority, enable regional taxes and/or merge HART and PSTA without having to go to the voters. Latvala said he would help with legislation to do just that in December 2012 because a regional transit authority is needed to get a train across the Howard Frankland bridge.

House Bill 1243 was presented by Representative Dan Raulerson on Tuesday to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The video of that committee meeting is here and this bill is the second one presented starting at about 4:00. 

Representative Raulerson is not a member of any transportation committee and is from Plant City, a municipality in the far eastern part of Hillsborough County. Plant City is not a member of HART, our local transit agency. Residents of Plant City do not pay HART's .5 mill property tax that the city of Tampa, city of Temple Terrace and unincorporated Hillsborough County residents pay to fund HART. 

It is odd that the sponsor of a bill to create a new Tampa Bay regional transit operating authority that must be funded lives in a municipality in Hillsborough County that does not fund and is not a member of it's own local transit agency. If Raulerson wants more transit, perhaps he should first start advocating for Plant City to be a member of HART.

An amendment was made reducing the number of non-electeds on the new 13 member TBARTA Board and adding two more electeds - the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg. We understand the change was done at the request of both mayors who support costly rail projects.

Of course, electeds want a majority of electeds to run everything.

They tell us that a majority of electeds on all these boards makes the boards more accountable….That reasoning can be questioned. 

PSTA is a transit agency whose Board consists of a majority of electeds and PSTA has been mismanaged for years. PSTA's Board never held PSTA's CEO Brad Miller accountable for misusing federal funds on Greenlight Pinellas. Instead PSTA's Board gave him accolades and a raise last year. How accountable is that? 

Latvala should be cleaning up the mismanaged PSTA in his own backyard. Other counties do not want to be burdened with Pinellas County's PSTA mess. 

The PTC was also created by the state and it's Board was all electeds. The PTC became totally crony, corrupt and archaic.

Raulerson stated they may consider adding a fifth county - Hernando - and that other continuous counties may also join. Like Manatee was included because of Galvano, we surmise Hernando may be part of the deal because the CSX corridor goes up that way. 

So if they add Citrus and Sarasota counties, the new TBARTA will be the same as the old TBARTA but with a different Board and only focused on transit. Makes one wonder about this whole effort because Citrus and Hernando counties share their MPO and Manatee and Sarasota counties share their MPO.

The biggest issue (or unknown) with this bill is money and funding. 

Ironically, the Summary Analysis of HB1243 done by staff states:
The bill does not appear to have a significant fiscal impact on state or local government
That is simply not true. That is not being honest with taxpayers. 

A new regional operating transit authority cannot be created and operated without long term funding. Not one representative questioned why the bill's summary analysis stated there was no fiscal impact when everyone knows the new entity has to be funded - somehow.

TBARTA does has the authority to issues bonds per Florida Statue 343.94No investor will buy bonds that has no long term, sustainable revenue source to pay back the bondholders.

Raulerson was asked what revenue would pay back TBARTA bond financing. His answer was that revenue received from the bus service and light rail. Yes he said light rail…. (Almost all of the light rail boondoggles were pushed by regional transit agencies.) 

There is a huge math problem. Raulerson must know that because he's an accountant.

Transit projects have capital costs and operating costs associated with them. Which costs was he referring to? 

Farebox revenue could never cover required capital costs of large transit projects. Farebox revenue often only accounts for about 20% of the operating costs. Where's all the rest of the money coming from? No representative even asked.

The fact that all the sales tax hike referendums for transit in Tampa Bay have been overwhelmingly defeated was brought up at the committee meeting.

Raulerson stated the bill does not make TBARTA a taxing authority. But this bill may not have to specifically provide for that because Florida Statute 212.055 governing the transportation sales surtax was changed in 2010 to enable putting a regional sales tax for a regional transit authority on the ballot in multiple counties.
Latvala's bill goes right along with the $1.5 million Regional Premium Transit campaign that will identify regional transit projects to enter the pipeline for federal funds. This new TBARTA regional transit authority will be the entity to pursue those funds. 

However, federal funds for transit projects may be eliminated or greatly reduced under the Trump Administration so there should be no reliance on getting federal money. Pursuing any federal funds requires a local committed long term funding source. Where's the money?

We doubt the state legislature would create another SunRail fiscal disaster
…a recent study has found that the cost of SunRail to issue and collect tickets is greater than the revenue from ticket sales.
How more insane can things get? This insanity occurs when any sense of common sense is thrown out.

The bill was orchestrated by a local delegation of one - Senator Latvala - who hastily filed the bill the weekend before the session started. It was never vetted by TBARTA and did not go to any of the local delegations for input by any constituents impacted.

We have a regional transportation issue that needs to be addressed not a sudden regional transit issue requiring another transit authority to fund into perpetuity.

Instead of this bill, there should be laser focus on getting FDOT's TBX project implemented. That project fixes the Howard Frankland bridge, fixes the chokepoints at 60 and malfunction junction, adds much needed interstate capacity and creates a regional transit corridor. It is funded by user fees, state and federal gas taxes we already pay and tolls by those who individually decide to use the express lanes, not higher taxes. TBX does not require another bureaucracy to build, operate and manage.

Innovation and technology is already disrupting traditional transit as transit ridership is declining in Tampa Bay by double digits. With the federal spending spigot for new transit projects getting turned off or greatly reduced, common sense says the timing of this bill is not good.

Once a bureaucracy is in place and funded, it's almost impossible to get rid of it - just look at the PTC.

The irony of it all… This legislative session is finally getting rid of the unnecessary, crony, corrupt and out of control PTC created by the state legislature in 1976. And in the same session the state wants to create another unnecessary transit authority, an arms length from voters and taxpayers, that would have to be funded and we could never get rid of when it gets out of control.

Besides the elephant in the room - the issue of funding - there are lots of other issues with this bill. There are regulatory requirements regarding transit authorities. Who is looking at how this new regional transit authority would comply and how much it would cost now and in the future to comply?

I attended the TBARTA meeting Friday and for transparency, I spoke in opposition to this bill. TBARTA Chair Ronnie Duncan stated this bill was created and put forward without engaging TBARTA or its Board. The biggest issue the Board agreed on was funding - no one knows how this new transit authority is be funded. We have to assume it will be the taxpayers of Tampa Bay. In addition, TBARTA Executive Director Ray Chiarmonte brought up a host of other issues with this bill. 

This shows the haste of how this bill was introduced without proper vetting.

There is no outcry or demand by citizens and taxpayers of all these counties demanding this new transit authority be created. 

We hope the state will stop this force feeding of regionalism on the citizens of Tampa Bay that will lead to higher taxes, more wasteful spending, more influence by special interests and less accountability.

Instead, let's use common sense, fiscal responsibility and some foresight for where the future of transportation is going in the 21st century, not a new regional bureaucracy to bloat.  

HB1243 must go through the House General Accountability Committee (meets Wednesday) and Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Committee. SB1672 is in the Senate Community Affairs Committee (chaired by Senator Tom Lee, Senator Jeff Brandes is a member) and Appropriations Committee (chaired by Senator Jack Latvala, Senator Jeff Brandes is a member).

Help stop this bill forcing a regional transit authority on Tampa Bay taxpayers by contacting committee members at links above, your state legislators and leadership to voice opposition to SB1672 and HB1243:
State Representatives
State Senators
Speaker Corcoran
Senate President Negron
Senator Galvano (who will become Senate President next year and was the original champion for TBARTA in 2007)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kill the Bill! Say No to Regionalism in Tampa Bay

Watch these two companion bills filed in this legislative session affecting transportation in Tampa Bay. SB1672 was filed by Senator Appropriations Chair Senator Latvala and it's identical House companion bill HB1243 was filed by Representative Dan Raulerson who is not a member of any transportation committee.

These bills re-swizzle and reorganize the Tampa Bay Regional TRANSPORTATION Authority (TBARTA) into the Tampa Bay Regional TRANSIT Authority. No wonder they were filed very late right before the session started last week. They provide the groundwork and foundation for regionalism, for a regional transit taxing authority, pursuit of a bigger pot of money and for taking away local control.

Who supports this change? Were there any surveys conducted of the voters and taxpayers in the counties impacted?  It certainly looks like this change is being pushed without consent of those actually impacted.

We posted about the push for regionalism in Tampa Bay by Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long and Senator Latvala here here and here. Special interests Tampa Bay Partnership also supports a regional transit authority according to this white paper they commissioned by the Eno Center for Transportation and this TBBJ article
The group [Tampa Bay Partnership] also recommends creating a regional transit authority with the ability to approve inter-local agreements in order to work across county lines.
Latvala's bill creates a new Tampa Bay regional transit operating authority by reorganizing TBARTA, changing its mission and how it is governed.

But we do not suddenly have transit issues across county lines, we have transportation issues across county lines that must be addressed.

Currently TBARTA provides TRANSPORTATION planning for seven counties (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee, Citrus, Hernando and Sarasota) and operates a multi-county van pool service. At TBARTA's website, find their Regional Master Plan, their Transit-Oriented Development Resource Guide and information about their van pool and commuter services.

Latvala's bill changes TBARTA to a four county (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Manatee) regional transit operating authority. The governing board will change from 15 members to 13 members. The new Board would consist of:
  • One county commissioner from each of the four counties 
  • One member  representing HART 
  • One member representing PSTA
  • Two business community members appointed by the Senate President
  • Two business community members appointed by the House Speaker
  • Three business community members appointed by the Governor
These four counties are all very different. We can only assume Manatee was thrown in because Senator Galvano of Manatee championed the creation of TBARTA in 2007 and Latvala wants his support. Why would Pasco and Manatee's transit agencies not be represented and why are all the appointees from the business community not "citizen" appointees?

Today TBARTA is not a regional taxing authority but that was the intent when it was created back in 2007.  However, the recession hit in 2008 and no state legislator was going to vote for another taxing authority during a recession.

Statutorily TBARTA has the ability to bond for capital construction or improvements and does not have a dedicated funding source to operate anything. Today the state and participating counties have contributed funds for TBARTA to operate its commuter services and do planning.

It does not appear that Latvala's bill specifically enables TBARTA to become a taxing authority. Therefore, how would this new transit operating entity be funded? No entity can be an operating authority without dedicated funding.

In 2010 Florida Statute 212.055 addressing the transportation surtax was suddenly changed by our state legislature to include "regional transportation system" surtax not just charter county surtax. What is highlighted is what was added to that statute in 2010:
(a) Each charter county that has adopted a charter, each county the government of which is consolidated with that of one or more municipalities, and each county that is within or under an interlocal agreement with a regional transportation or transit authority created under chapter 343 or chapter 349 may levy a discretionary sales surtax, subject to approval by a majority vote of the electorate of the county or by a charter amendment approved by a majority vote of the electorate of the county.
(b) The rate shall be up to 1 percent.
It appears this statute can be used to put a multi-county regional tax on the ballot to fund a regional transit authority.

The timing of these bills conveniently coincide with the Tampa Bay Regional Premium Transit Plan campaign we posted about here. This $1.5 million taxpayer funded effort is supposed to result in transit projects to enter the federal FTA New Starts/Small Starts transit grant programs. But there's lots of unknowns and uncertainty about these federal funds with a new Trump Admin and a Republican Congress. In addition, the future of transportation is not costly rail systems.

The taxpayer funded public campaign to sell the transit projects will begin around September. The elephant in the room is that all the federal transit grant programs require a committed local long term funding source.

Where would the money come from?

From a multi-county regional tax to fund regional transit projects operated by the new TBARTA? Since Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco keep rejecting sales tax hikes, can we assume the next hat trick is to put a multi-county sales tax hike on the ballot?

From higher property tax rates? Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller is looking at raising HART's ad valorem property tax millage rate. What does he want to fund? Would any of those new property tax dollars go to this new TBARTA regional transit entity?

The question no one is answering is where's the funding for the new regional TBARTA operating entity coming from?

Note: In 2014, TBARTA passed a resolution to become a direct recipient for FTA federal funds. At the March 2015 TBARTA meeting the Eye attended, the 2015 Regional Master Plan was presented by Jacobs Engineering. The same Jacobs who did the Greenlight Pinellas boondoggle, was a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff on the Go Hillsborough debacle and is now working on the Regional Transit campaign. One thing Tampa Bay does very well is enrich the same transit consultants over and over and over.

But beware.

Michigan state legislature created the four county Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) that includes Detroit in 2012. RTA used consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and AEComm to create a regional transit plan (sound familiar). RTA put a 20 year, $4.6 Billion 1.2 mill tax proposal on the ballot last November and it was defeated.

While RTA was asking taxpayers for billions, the CEO of RTA Michael Ford claimed $37,000 in expenses, including airfare, luxury hotel rooms and out-of-town meals over 2½ years. Ford recently paid back $19,000 after the Detroit News submitted numerous public records requests and a review brought the expenses into the Sunshine. Where was the oversight?

In San Diego, SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments), the entity that Commissioner Long modeled her proposed Tampa Bay Regional Council of Governments, put a half-cent 40 year sales tax hike on the ballot in November and it was defeated. (CA requires a 2/3 majority to pass)

Taxpayers are probably very glad it did not pass because now there's a big scandal. Apparently SANDAG was deceiving the voters and taxpayers about how much revenue would be generated to pay for all the projects promised and understated the costs of those projects. An independent investigation is being demanded.

And it is no surprise there were allegations that SANDAG was illegally using public money to promote the sales tax hike plan. We have seen those tactics used in Tampa Bay.

The five counties in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area representing the regional Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) are discussing disbanding. CTIB, that levies a quarter cent sales tax and $20 vehicle excise tax, was created by the state legislature in 2008 by a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA). Each county would have to vote to dissolve the JPA to disband. Dakota County has already voted 6-1 to leave by 2019 because the county has received less funding from the coalition than it has paid in.  Creating a regional transit entity thru a JPA - Sound familiar?

BART is under the umbrella of the nine county Metropolitan Transportation Commission in San Francisco. BART's ridership is down while it's costs are increasing that may result in a $25-35 million operating shortfall this year. While BART has spent billions of dollars on expanding transit, they neglected to put money aside for much needed maintenance.

BART put a $3.5 BILLION three county bond measure (debt) on the ballot last November that would use a property tax assessment to pay back the debt to pay for the neglected maintenance. It was approved with overwhelming support from San Francisco of course. But here is a scathing editorial from East Bay Times against the measure (click on the links in the article):
The ballot wording conveniently omits that the district would tax property owners for 48 years to pay off the debt.
These massive transit referendums use deception, dishonesty and half-truths to ram massive tax hikes through. We saw the same dishonesty and half-truths with Go Hillsborough, Greenlight Pinellas and the 2010 Moving Hillsborough Forward rail tax.

The bigger the bureaucracy the more money they want creating a bigger food fight over a bigger pot of money, how it is spent, who gets to pay and who gets the benefit.

The bigger the bureaucracy the more influence special interests will have and the less influence local voters and taxpayers will have. Regionalism makes it harder to oppose these huge regional tax hikes for costly boondoggles as deep pocketed special interest groups launch multi-million dollar regional advocacy campaigns.

The bigger the bureaucracy the greater the problem is for less accountability, less transparency and less oversight. 

The bigger the bureaucracy the greater the opportunity for corruption and cronyism. 

Look at the recent contract scandal with South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) that operates Tri-Rail. Governor Scott wants the controversial contract rescinded. State Senator Jeff Brandes raised his concerns. State senator George Gainer filed bill SB1118 that would strip Tri-Rail of state funding unless its board rescinds a controversial $511 million contract, and it requires state approval of future contracts. Note: all Florida taxpayers bail out Tri-Rail every year with tens of millions of state tax dollars.

Bigger regional bureaucracies just get bigger, more arrogant and more powerful especially over time.

Regionalizing decision making has led to increased taxes and more government spending everywhere it is implemented.

Our elected officials in Tampa Bay already work together across county lines. We do not need a new regional transit operating entity for them to do so. They need to do their jobs, not give up local control.

Tampa Bay does not need a regional transit bureaucracy placed an arms length from voters and taxpayers.  

We need more honest and more accountable government that better utilizes our existing growing revenues on our highest priorities not ploys to fund bigger government entities.

We need better government not bigger government. 

The senate bill may muster through with Latvala's arm twisting, but we hope the House bill goes nowhere and dies under Speaker Corcoran.

Time to Kill these Bills Now!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Transit Reality not Misguided Rhetoric Presents Opportunity

As we posted here, the latest $1.5 million Tampa Bay regional campaign for transit has begun.

Jacobs Engineering, awarded the $1.5 million work, presented the slide below as part of their response to get the campaign work. We can only assume that is their problem statement - they think the public is stupid.
Jacobs Engineering slide included in their RFP response
The re-education marching orders must have gone out. The Times reporters, columnists and editors and some other local media outlets all fell in line at the same time.

The Times began their recent piling on of HART with this article. The Times reporters, editors and columnists must have been colluding because they all piled on sounding the same false alarm that the sky is falling because we don't have costly rail/transit systems and we need them and must pay for them. (Search HART, transit on the Times website for all their recent articles.)

Time to reset the rhetoric of the Times doom and gloom alarms.

FDOT's TBX project must be implemented to add interstate capacity, fix the choke points and the Howard Frankland bridge. TBX creates a major Express bus transit corridor for commuters in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. TBX is funded by our state and federal gas taxes we already pay and tolls by those who use the managed express lanes (no new taxes needed).

Express toll lanes are being built on the Veterans Expressway that will also provide another major Express bus transit corridor in the region.

Most likely, there will be autonomous buses using these express lanes before any costly rail system could ever be built out.

Autonomous bus 
The Times and others right here in Tampa Bay continue ignoring our own transportation think tank at USF, the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR). Perhaps they could at least read CUTR's Journal of Public Transportation.

The Times did not mention TBARTA's regional van pool service. This van pool program is a cost-effective public-private partnership that serves commuters in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
TBARTA Regional Van Pool Service
(click to enlarge)
Ray Chiarmonte, Executive Director of TBARTA, did respond to the Times doom and gloom with his Op-Ed about TBARTA's vanpool.

HART had just completed their latest customer survey. The Eye attended the February 6, 2017 HART Board meeting where the survey results, found here, were presented and overall satisfaction from those who use HART's services is positive. Does the Times even know about HART's surveys?
Overall Satisfaction 
• The percent of customers who are very satisfied with HART’s service overall has continuously increased each Wave, reaching nearly 50% in Wave 4
. • Over 95% of customers in all Waves feel that service quality has improved or stayed the same over the past year.
Customer Service
 • The percent of customers who agree that HART is focused on customer service continued to increase in Wave 4
 • Nearly 90% of customers in Wave 4 agree that the location of HART bus routes are convenient. • Customer satisfaction with the frequency of HART’s service increased by 16% from Wave 3 to Wave 4 
HART has their 10 year TDP approved by their Board that gets regularly updated. HART also defined a 10 year Vision plan during Go Hillsborough. Information regarding these TDP plans can be found here.  Why is HART's TDP not mentioned by the Times? Is the Times is intentionally ignoring HART's TDP or they don't know about it? Before taxpayers feed more consultants to do more studies, HART's TDP should be looked at first.

HART has a dedicated funding source, a .5 mill ad valorem property tax that provides about $35 million a year to HART. HART's other revenues include their yearly federal formula funds, fare box revenue and advertising revenue totaling between $70 and 80 million a year. If they receive some state/federal grant monies, that is additional.

HART's TDP will be going through its latest update this year so why not improve it and determine how best to leverage the money HART already receives…….instead of paying more consultants to continue proposing costly transit boondoggles. The county funded HART's north-south MetroRapid BRT so could the county fund the east-west MetroRapid?

Let's look at more of these types of services, electric powered short hop shuttles - though calling them limos is a bit comical.


Because the other side of the transit coin is that transit ridership is down nationwide, including in Hillsborough County. HART's ridership 2016 numbers can be found in the February 6, 2017 Board packet (scroll down to Status Report starting at page 6-5)
December 2016 bus ridership declined 11.6% compared to December 2015 and all mode ridership is off 8.4% for the three months of FY 2017.  
Pinellas County PSTA's ridership is also declining.  Declining transit ridership in the Tampa Bay area is no different than what is occurring in municipalities that have spent millions and billions on very costly transit projects:

The above list does not include Charlotte:
For the first seven months of the fiscal year, which began in July, local bus ridership was down 6.7 percent. 
Overall, the transit system’s ridership is down 5 percent. That includes buses, the Lynx Blue Line and the streetcar. 
The decline has lasted several years, however.
Read more here:
In addition, here's the latest about Denver: Downtown Denver survey shows people are opting to drive over using public transit

The reality is that innovation and technology is already making an impact on traditional transit. It's also making an impact on how we use our own vehicles. We can easily use Uber or Lyft to go downtown to a Lightning game or any other event and not worry about or pay for parking.

Tampa Bay taxpayers must not be put in another position like SunRail SunFail where SunRail ticket revenue is less than ticketing expense. SunFail's ridership declined last year even though service was expanded.

The regional premium transit plan is currently looking at the CSX corridor. Let's think outside the box towards the future. Could such a corridor be more highly utilized as an AV corridor for autonomous buses, vans and vehicles instead of rail cars and tracks?

The FTA and the states will probably soon, if not already, start requiring that autonomous technology be included and addressed as part of any funding request.

The reality is choice riders are driving or using the sharing economy of ride-share, vehicle-share and bike-share.

With a new Administration in DC, there are lots of unknowns regarding the future ability to get federal grants for new transit projects. We hope federal grants for boondoggles stop.

The innovation and technology driving the future of transportation is disrupting traditional transit and how we use and will use buses, shuttles and our own vehicles. We will be able to more efficiently and effectively utilize our existing infrastructure and resources.

The private sector is leading the way and they will partner with the public sector to provide new and better services at lower costs.

Why not recover more of transit's operating costs through farebox recovery? With smart card technology we can re-think fare box recovery for how to use differentiated pricing instead of flat fares.

Why not look at a tiered farebox pricing model where choice riders pay their fare share while low income transit dependent riders receive a voucher or reduced rate. Some transit agencies in the US such as Seattle have already started implementing tiered farebox pricing.

Can we use congestion pricing for transit similar to what is now being used on managed toll lanes? What about time and distance pricing?

Other locales are stuck paying forever for costly fixed guideway/rail systems experiencing declining ridership. Tampa Bay is not stuck in these costly systems.

The reality is Tampa Bay is better positioned to partner with the entrepreneurs and innovators to leap frog over 19th century solutions, and provide cost effective transportation services people actually will use for the 21st Century.

The Times needs a reality check!