Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The West Coast public transportation battle heats up

The Tampa Bay Times continues to run with the light-rail solution.

It did not take long for the big rail supporters to get a significant boost from the Tampa Bay Times. Here are a couple of editorials taking the recent Jacobs Engineering recommendations for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to task.

The Times has been a staunch light rail and transportation-oriented redevelopment supporter for years.

Quoting from the Too Soon to settle for busses over light rail Editorial:

“But in cementing BRT as its first priority, the recommendation effectively sidelines light rail — despite rail’s standing for years as the most desirable transit option, its potential to spark redevelopment and create jobs and its earlier top ranking.”

And there you have it.

The developers and real estate people have been salivating over light rail and the prospect of ripping up significant portions of the Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to build an expensive light-rail system and terminals.

The “redevelopment” comes from retail and residential centers they hope will develop around rail stations and the expected property value boom and associated construction.

Quoting further:

The chairman of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, summed it up right this month when she told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board she was disappointed in the shift from rail. "I think we need to keep all the options on the table," she said, "while we figure out what the needs are." 

What Janet Long needs is a reality check.

A lot, more money will float around if light rail comes to the area, and big beneficiaries will be the developers and real-estate people who the politicians let get their fingers in the pie on the front end and back end.

BRT is not a “compromise" as the light-rail supporters would have you believe, it is a realistic approach to the regional transportation problem.

And let’s look at the flip side. There is no guarantee that any large-scale public transportation solution will work or be financially viable. In fact, most are not.

In good economic times when employment rates are low, and almost any new car dealer in the area can put you in a car for “0 down, 0 security deposit and no first month’s payment” regardless of your credit; cars will still be the first choice. One only needs to look at current HART and PSTA year over year rider ship statistics to understand.

It would seem to me rather than rip the counties apart by cutting a swath to plant light rail, spending untold billions of dollars to buy land, lay rails and build stations a BRT solution that can flex and grow at a fraction of the cost makes a lot more sense.

It is time for the light-rail touters to step from the train into the light and come to grip with the fact that large-scale light rail is not going to happen.

And that’s a good thing for the region. 

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Get Off the Hamster Wheel! Rail Costs Too Much Does Too Little

There was a packed room at PSTA last Friday at the TMA meeting where Jacobs Engineering presented a draft of their regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal to TMA members. The TMA members represent the MPO's from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco but normally also includes FDOT, TBARTA, HART and PSTA - quite a power broker group.

Background: FDOT handed HART $1.5 million in 2016 and said have at it - go hire another consultant for another transit study campaign. The contract awarded Jacobs, thru an RFP in the fall of 2016, required the end game deliverable be a project(s) that can meet criteria to enter the federal funding spigot pipeline - which also requires having a long term committed local funding source....that does not exist today. The Jacobs contract was doled out before the 2016 election when  the expectation was the federal transit gravy train money aka DEBT dollars will continue as it has in the past. Hmmm...That may now be questionable.

At Friday's dog and pony show, Jacobs admitted in public, that proposed rail projects in Tampa Bay cannot meet minimum federal criteria required to pursue federal funding. They admitted rail costs too much and does too little.

Sound familiar? We know it and taxpayers and voters know it too.  It didn't take spending $1.5 million of taxpayer money to figure it out. It is basic 3rd grade math and common sense.

Jacobs admitted what we've been saying for years. The 2010 Moving Hillsborough Forward rail tax, the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas rail tax and the 2016 crony Go Hillsborough debacle were all costly, flawed bad plans. The rail projects in those plans would not qualify for federal funding.

But Jacobs has known it all along. They were paid $4 MILLION of taxpayer money to do the Alternatives Analysis (AA) for Greenlight Pinellas - that was their plan. Ironically Jacobs, while getting another $1.5 million of taxpayer money, is now admitting how bad and flawed their own Greenlight plan was. (Jacobs also got a take of the $1.3 million Go Hillsborough debacle.)

Jacobs wasted an entire year and gobs of taxpayer money because they started with the same flawed approach used before. Jacobs started with a blank slate and a phony public opinion drive when they knew upfront the end result had to be a project(s) that met federal criteria to try to compete for federal funds.

Suddenly this past November Jacobs decided to use what they call a "value engineering" approach and work backwards from the (mostly cost/ridership) criteria required to get federal funding. In other words, use reverse engineering. They knew what the end result must be so they simply worked backwards.

Why didn't Jacobs start with that approach? How much time, resources and taxpayer money was wasted on phony meetings and meaningless presentations?

To qualify for federal funding, Jacobs stated the cost per trip must be in the $8-10 range. They then had to figure out what could pigeon hole backwards into that cost range. It was not going to be rail.

Finally having cost consciousness about transit projects is refreshing and certainly appreciated.

But what transportation problem is this latest $1.5 million transit campaign solving? We await that answer.

Remember the 2014 AEComm report?  That report also confirmed that rail costs too much, does too little and we do not have the ridership to get federal funding for expensive trains. Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill refused to publicly present the report to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) in May 2014.  He even tried to hide it by embedding it in another document.

Now we know why.

May 2014 was precisely the time when all the behind the scenes maneuvering was  being orchestrated to hand a $1.3 million taxpayer funded crony no bid contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff and Beth Leytham in August 2014 - to fund the Go Hillsborough tax hike campaign for rail. Fortunately, they got caught and Go Hillsborough was shut down.

But the local rail cartel is like a cat with nine lives. They are still alive and well, including their local media enabler, who had to immediately pounce after Jacobs proposed BRT not costly rail.

Even as Jacobs admits rail costs too much and does too little, the Times publishes a very poorly written editorial Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail. This whiny opinion piece circles the drain with false rhetoric while slightly relenting the truth.
But in cementing BRT as its first priority, the recommendation effectively sidelines light rail — despite rail’s standing for years as the most desirable transit option, its potential to spark redevelopment and create jobs and its earlier top ranking. 
Outdated, 19th century costly light rail is desirable to crony special interests and developers who will greatly benefit but certainly not by those who will have to pay for it. Rail is not desired by voters who have overwhelmingly defeated rail boondoggles at the ballot box multiple times.

But wait - some of those same special interests financially bailed out the Times last year. No bias there for sure....

The Times prefers to ignore the data, ignore the facts, continue trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and continue whining for costly rail. The Times either does not know basic math or chooses to ignore it. Pathetic.

H/T from one of our readers and fellow blogger, Tom Rask, who recently posted some silly little "facts" the Times conveniently leaves out of their false rail narratives. SunFail's ridership is so low that farebox only recovers 5% of its operating costs and taxpayers are forced to subsidize the other 95%.
HART, PSTA, Pasco Transit, SunRail ridership declines
(click to enlarge)
State taxpayers are also forced to bail out Tri-Rail in South Florida to the tune of tens of millions of dollars every year.  

The Times editorial quotes Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long who told them she was disappointed in the shift from rail.
"I think we need to keep all the options on the table," she said, "while we figure out what the needs are."
Absurd! We know what our transportation needs are. We have spent mega tax bucks studying it for decades.

It is not rail. Voters and taxpayers in Tampa Bay figured out years ago that rail costs too much and does too little. And pursuing costly rail at a time when traditional transit is being disrupted, transit ridership is declining and new technology and innovation is rapidly approaching is even more absurd.

Yet some electeds, the local rail cartel and the whiny Times are stuck in their own hamster wheel with blinders on. They go round and round and round trying to force feed costly rail boondoggles on Tampa Bay taxpayers.
Riding the rail cartel
hamster wheel with blinders
And they keep losing - the folly of being stuck in a hamster wheel with blinders on....

Continuing to do the same thing over and over and over expecting a different outcome is insanity

Who sides with crazy losers?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Bay Area Transit - Sanity among the chaos

It looks like there may be a glimmer of hope for Bay Area public transit. 

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.

In the Regional Transit Feasibility plan, developed by Jacobs Engineering, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has become the leading option.

You can get more details in these Tampa Bay Times articles by Caitlin Johnston:

Tampa Bay’s transit future: Light rail’s out. Rapid buses are in.

Tampa Bay Transit: How rapid buses left light rail in the dust.

It would seem that the Jacob’s Team is not only technical adept they are also pragmatic.

Following two disastrous attempts at referendums to fund light-rail and transit-oriented redevelopment, the Jacobs team is recommending a 40-mile BRT route that will connect Wesley Chapel to downtown Tampa and on to St. Petersburg.

The local light rail supporters are waxing pragmatic also.

From the Johnston article, "Candidly, I’m tired of talking about it," (Bob) Buckhorn said. "We need a victory. .?.?. I can say with a great deal of certainty if we move toward a BRT model using the existing interstate, we can get this done much more quickly than another prolonged debate in a political referendum about whether or not rail is appropriate for our area or not."

And St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, "Unless we are willing to ask the public to tax themselves significantly in order to make it happen," he said, "then realistically, light rail is really not going to happen."

There are still a lot of problems to over come and the Jacob’s study will be part of a larger plan developed by the State, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties along with St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Don’t get too excited yet we have a long way to go and those who fortunes are tied to light rail may yet still try to thwart a rubber tire based solution. More than one consultant’s report has been quietly placed upon the shelf to slowly sink from relevance.

There are other issues like the proposal in Senate Bill 1200 and House Bill 525 to take funds from rail transit and support alternative transportation systems, which could include BRT. See my Post: State wide alternative Transportation Authority More money down and old rat hole.

Once TBARTA gets their hands on these funds watch out for a “new” study to be funded that will contradict the Jacobs study as TBARTA tries to slow down any non-light rail approach.

It is almost unfair to ask TBARTA that has spent years and millions of dollars trying to get a light-rail proposal funded to switch hats and actively and professionally support the very thing they have fought for so long.

Too many years, too many friendships, too many intertwined relationships with politicians, developers, consultants and light rail promoters for the alternative transportation money and BRT to get a fair shake.

TBARTA should have never been “re-invented” by the State revising its charter; TBARTA should have been eliminated, and a new organization with a completely new staff should have been created.

Even the quotes from Buckhorn and Kriseman leave the light-rail door open and any hint of questions about the viability of BRT will send the boys running back to the tracks.

If Buckhorn and Kriseman are serious about the “need for a win” they need to get with their Pinellas and Hillsborough County counterparts and either get the $25 million from the State diverted to a different source or make sure they have enough control at TBARTA to ensure these funds aren’t spent to crash the BRT project before it gets rolling.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

EIGHT IS ENOUGH! Promote Rulers to Sovereign, Impose Term Limits!

“In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter is not to degrade but to promote them.”
- Benjamin Franklin, 1787
Term limits are restrictions. They are imposed to restrict and limit the number of years or terms someone may serve in the same office. Term limits are imposed so that one person cannot hold an office for life and so a variety of people can serve. 

There were 40 term limit ballot initiatives, including a few trying to remove term limits or extend the term limit, across the country on the November 2016 ballot. Term limits won in 100% of them all.

Some electeds today have turned Franklin's statement upside down. They believe the people are the servants and the rulers are superiors and sovereigns. They refuse to abide by term limits.

At the local level, government without term limits may become disinterested in the everyday concerns of the citizen and more interested in pursuing an agenda benefitting special interests and their donor base.

The longer local electeds park themselves for years and years on the same governing board they become very "artful" at gaming the system. This can lead to a breeding ground for cronyism and corruption.

Local term limits are popular with Floridians. 

In 2012, an amendment to the Miami-Dade County Charter was put on the ballot limiting county commissioner terms to two consecutive four year terms - EIGHT IS ENOUGH years. It was massively passed by Miami-Dade County voters 77-23%.

Closer to home, an EIGHT IS ENOUGH ballot initiative, led by citizens, was placed on the Pinellas County ballot in 1996. This amendment limiting county commissioners to eight years - two four year terms - was also massively passed by Pinellas voters 72-28%.

Having power can be like a addictive drug. Once one is hooked, they are addicted to power and do not want to give it up. The Pinellas County commissioners refused to give up their power addiction and refused to abide by the overwhelming wishes of the will of the people. 

The convoluted legal mess that ensued is eye popping. Of course lawsuits were filed and the commissioners simply continued ignoring the amendment. The timeline of the legal actions is here.

The District Court of Appeals of Florida, District Two, ruled in favor of the term limit amendment in May 2000. Then the State Supreme Court in May 2002 ruled it unconstitutional, on a ground they later reversed in May 2012. The Florida Supreme Court sent the case back in 2002 to the District Court of Appeals who then reversed their previous 2000 ruling. 

In May 2012, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the reason they had ruled Pinellas County term limit amendment unconstitutional but did not reverse their ruling on the amendment. More lawsuits were filed but in 2013/2014 the Circuit Court used a technicality that the Florida Supreme Court had "receded" from its prior position, leaving its original ruling against the Pinellas County term limits amendment intact. 

That legalistic jingo'ing used for the Pinellas lawsuit ruling was obviously unfair to the voters of Pinellas County. The "receded" Supreme Court position enabled term limits amendments challenged in Broward, Sarasota and Duval counties to all be ruled constitutional. 

In 1992, term limits were massively passed by voters in Duval/Jacksonville 77-23%. Jacksonville/Duval County became consolidated in 1968 and Jacksonville City Council consists of 19 members, 14 single member districts and 5 at-large countywide districts. The term limits in their Charter is clear - no jumping from single member to at-large districts -  EIGHT IS ENOUGH!
No person elected for two consecutive full terms as a member of the council shall be eligible for election as a council member in the next succeeding term.
In 2000 Broward County voters massively passed a term limit amendment 80-20% limiting county commissioners to three four year consecutive terms (12 years) that also ended up in court. The Florida Supreme Court in May 2012 even cited the Pinellas 2000 ruling in their ruling in favor of Broward's term limit amendment.  

In 1998 Sarasota County overwhelmingly passed 68-32% an EIGHT IS ENOUGH term limit amendment limiting county commissioners to two four year terms. However, the term limit amendment was challenged in a county court and never implemented until 2012 when the Florida Supreme Court ruled it constitutional.

In Pinellas County, Barb Haselden, running for Pinellas County Commission District 6, promises to bring the EIGHT IS ENOUGH term limit issue back to the county commission. Good for Barb and for the overwhelming massive majority of Pinellas voters who voted for term limits in 1996. 

Haselden's current challengers are two Republican state legislators Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters. 

Ahern is being term limited this year out of his state House District 66 seat. Ahern was appointed to the Pinellas County 2015-2016 Charter Review Commission that refused to take up the term limit issue. Pinellas county citizens brought the term limit issue to the Charter Review Commission asking that a new term limit amendment be placed on the 2016 ballot. This commission refused to even take the issue up. Now Ahern's running for a county commission seat of unlimited term....Anyone think he will now champion term limits???

Kathleen Peters, elected to state House District 69 in 2012 had already filed to run again for her House seat. Peters, an ally of the disgraced Senator Latvala who recently resigned due to sexual harassment accusations was apparently no friend of Speaker Corcoran. Peters decided to change her filing and instead run for Pinellas county commission District 6. She changed her filing last May but her campaign website has not been updated. Nowhere, except for the small print political ad legal disclosure at the bottom of the page, states what race she is running in. Maybe she's going to change her mind again...

Side note: Whether good, bad or indifferent, since term limits were imposed on state legislators overwhelmingly by voters 77-23% in 1992, leap frogging back from the state legislature to local races across Florida has certainly resulted.

But local government is where some powerful decisions about zoning, land use and development are made - ripe for corruption. Lots of county contracts are handed out and lots of taxpayer dollars doled out - too often with no questions asked. The county is where some cozy close personal relationships can rule the day and determine an outcome.

In 1983 three corrupt Hillsborough county commissioners were arrested for bribery and extortion and subsequently went to prison. That corrupt mess led to the Hillsborough County Charter approved by voters in September 1983.

The 1983 Charter included term limits and increased the Commission Board from five to seven members, representing four District and three Countywide districts. The intent of creating district and countywide seats was to give every county voter the opportunity to vote for four commissioners (one district and three countywide), a majority of the seven Board members. 

District and countywide seats were not intended for commissioners to leap back and forth between district and countywide races on the same governing board.

Unfortunately, the term limit language in the Hillsborough County Charter has a gaping hole that has been exploited. This loophole enables the term limit clock to restart. It has already enabled county commissioners to leap frog from District seats to Countywide seats extending the length of time they serve on the county commission. 

Norman, Hagan and Higginbotham successfully did it. And it is happening again this election year. 

Commissioner Crist, term limited in District 2 this year, is jumping to the countywide seat Hagan is term limited in. Commissioner Murman is doing what Hagan did in 2010 and jumping mid-term to run countywide in a non-Presidential election year. Murman, who was just re-elected to her District 1 seat in 2016, is jumping mid-term to run for Higginbotham's countywide seat since he is not running for re-election.

Crist and Murman were former state legislators. Crist spent 18 years in the state legislature from 1992-2010. When he was finally term limited from his state senate seat in 2010, he conveniently leaped directly back to his District 2 county commission seat courtesy of Hagan jumping mid-term. Murman served 8 years in the state house from 1996-2004 and did not leap frog back immediately but was first elected to her District 1 seat in 2010.

Leap frogging from District to Countywide races is bad enough for violating the spirit of term limits. The chess game of leaping from District to Countywide to keep their power at County Center is now getting worse.

Jumping from a District seat to Countywide and then flip flopping back to a District seat previously held is unprecedented. In the 34 years since the county charter was implemented, no commissioner has tried it.

Until now.

After 16 too long years, Hillsborough County Commissioner Hagan wants to continue his dynasty by egregiously ignoring term limits and running again. While Hagan's official candidacy paperwork he filed states he is leap frogging back to run for a District 2 seat he first was elected to in 2002, he's not.

As we posted here, Hagan is officially Candidate Hagan, running for District Rays. And his unprecedented campaign war chest for a single District commission race of almost $460K proves it. Lots of his donors are special interests, organizations and people who do not live in District 2 and cannot vote for him.

In 2014 Hagan raised a campaign war chest of over $300K to intentionally keep away challengers from his countywide race. It worked back then.

But 2018 is not 2014. 

Candidate Rays Hagan has a Republican Primary challenger Chris Paradies. Paradies supports closing the term limit loophole, and like Haselden, supports imposing a term limit of two consecutive four year terms - EIGHT IS ENOUGH

Republican voters in Hillsborough County's District 2 commission race can impose their own term limits, by tossing out Candidate Rays Hagan who most egregiously violates county term limits. In the August Primary, District 2 Republican voters can vote for new blood, a fresh face with new ideas, vote for fresh air in County Center, and someone not tied to crony corrupt politics.

And vote to elect Paradies. Those outside District 2 who support his cause can also help by hitting his donate button.

Republican voters can do the same in Pinellas County Commission District 6 Primary race. In the August Primary, District 6 Republican voters can reject recycling another state legislator. They can vote for someone who will bring fiscal common sense, accountability and a breath of fresh air to the Pinellas County Commission. 

And vote to elect Haselden. Those outside District 6 who support her cause can also help by hitting her donate button.

Good governance requires proper oversight and transparency - not behind the scenes colluding and back door shenanigans with crony confidantes, crony consultants, deep pocketed donors and special interests. 

Candidates Haselden and Paradies promise to support term limits and be champions for transparency and for taxpayers - not special interests. 

Haselden is a long time small business owner in Pinellas for 28 years who understands the need for good governance and the real life consequences of bad governance. 

In Hillsborough, Paradies is also a small business owner, who graduated from West Point, is an Army veteran with a law degree and PhD.  

In 2018, voters in Pinellas and Hillsborough can elect Haselden and Paradies and impose their own term limits on recycled career politico challengers.

Then enough is enough. Time to champion clear, concise term limits in both Hillsborough and Pinellas County Charters to ensure the rulers are promoted back to the sovereign. 


Friday, January 12, 2018

State wide alternative Transportation Authority

More money down an old rat hole

Sen. Dana Young and Rep. James Grant, both Tampa Republicans, have filed Bills in the Florida Legislature (SB 1200/HB 535) to take money from state passenger rail projects to build alternative transportation systems.

These alternative transportation systems are such things as autonomous vehicles, ride share operations and other emerging transportation technologies.

The Sunday Tampa Bay Times Editorial: Editorial: Legislature should send Tampa Bay transit money without limiting options is all in on sending the “money” without  limitations.

Problem is the money coming to the Bay Area is currently designated in the Bill to go to TBARTA one of the most failed Transit Authorities in the State.

Link to current draft Bill HB 235

From the Bill:

Twenty-five million dollars on a matching basis to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority for the design and construction of an alternative transportation system, as defined CS/HB.  One dollar in local or private matching funds must   be provided for each dollar distributed under this sub153 subparagraph. Federal funds may not be substituted for the local 154 or private matching funds.  

Even after a carefully crafted re-due by the Legislature TBARTA remains hopelessly flawed in is methods, management and implementation.

TBARTA never met a train in did not love, or a consultant that it could not somehow justify hiring. Why you would make TBARTA responsible for a project they basically benefit from if it fails is beyond me.

I cannot even begin to count the number of neighborhood association meetings and City Council sessions over my 28 years with the City of St. Petersburg where some TBARTA consultant, and never the same one, gave a glowing report replete with maps and charts about the progress of some TBARTA project that never came to fruition.

Even with a dollar for dollar match requirement that is currently in the Bill, which in all likelihoods could quietly disappear, the TBRATA folks are much more creative at dealing for dollars than they are at building transportation systems will find some way to get their paws on the $25 million.

Given TBARTA’s past track record the chances of any of the State money or the matching funds actually ending up in a Bay Area rolling transportation solution are remote.

The Times has this one all wrong. The first place to start is cutting TBARTA completely out of this picture and wrapping these funds up in requirements for rolling deliverables not consultant reports.

TBARTA will hire a staff to “manage” this program, open up the consultant’s feeding trough and spend most of the money trying to figure out how to throttle alternative transportation systems, so we can get back to their view of the real transportation solution light rail and transportation redevelopment. 

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