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!

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