TBARTA Board Charts Course for Regional Transit Future in Tampa Bay
TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 21) - In a special workshop session, the governing board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority met to discuss TBARTA’s purpose and vision in developing regional transit across Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Those decisions are an important part of the Regional Transit Development Plan that TBARTA will deliver to state transportation officials next year.
We have an opportunity to transform TBARTA into an authority with meaningful regional transit leadership and clear responsibility for regional transit services,” said David Green, TBARTA’s Executive Director. “It certainly would be easier to do nothing, but there are many reasons we have to change. This is an opportunity to set a new course.”
The meeting provided TBARTA’s board an opportunity to provide high-level direction in a multitude of areas, including regional transit planning, funding, operations and branding. Questions such as “What defines regional transit in Tampa Bay?”, “How should TBARTA coordinate services with local transit agencies?”, and “How should regional transit service across the entire five county area be funded?” came up for discussion.
“As population patterns change, and hub centers develop, given what’s happening in Tampa, St. Petersburg, what’s happening in Pasco County, Hernando County, Manatee County, it’s really not artificial county barriers anymore, it’s connectivity of economic hubs and population hubs,” said Jim Holton, TBARTA Board Chairman, in describing the need for more regional transit service.
“I couldn’t agree more, I think you’re right on target,” said Janet Long, TBARTA Board Member and Pinellas County Commissioner. “We’ve had many discussions over the last several years about this vision, what a regional transit system looks like, feels like. My opinion, our TBARTA agency is perfectly positioned to jump start this whole entire area into the future.”
Board members agreed there are many benefits to regional projects that extend beyond the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg and into the surrounding counties that make up the economic region of Tampa Bay. Along with that comes the need to develop strong relationships with local government leaders.
“Hernando County, for example, knows that what’s happening in Hillsborough, St. Pete, Pasco is really our future. We’re connected and want to participate,” said Cliff Manuel, Jr., TBARTA Vice-Chairman. “We’ve got to coordinate with our member governments and educate them so that commissioners and folks that aren’t able to sit on the board are fully invested in why transit is such an important component of our region.”
How to fund and financially sustain regional transit was a central topic for much of the conversation. TBARTA has studied regional transit operations in six peer cities, including Atlanta, San Diego, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Phoenix, to see how they make it work. In each instance, local funding sources are dedicated for regional transportation development and operation. Board members agreed there is a similar need for TBARTA.
“Down the road, I’d like to discuss the possibility of independent taxing authority for TBARTA, for regional transit projects,” Holton said. “Other regions have followed that model, and we could benefit from their experience.”
“We’ve got to start thinking about a transit tax, or a source of funding,” said Manuel. “I’m sure Atlanta did, I’m sure Orlando did, I’m sure Miami did, they’ve all found their way to a continuing source of funding, and then they moved their transit projects along. It’s not going to work any other way.”
“It seems if we could ever get there, if TBARTA had taxing authority, it would be simpler,” said Kathryn Starkey, TBARTA Board Member and Pasco County Commissioner.
Also discussed was the need for individual governments within Tampa Bay to speak collectively, with one loud voice, when applying for federal transportation funding.
“If you look historically, in terms of all transportation, not just transit, Washington D.C. and the feds favor larger, regional segments, to be a funnel for dollars, as opposed to individual counties or cities,” said Holton. “That’s something this area has wrestled with for many years. The facts are the facts. Washington favors regionalism and it favors giving more money to regions that have their act together and cooperate.”
TBARTA will take the guidance provided in the workshop and use it to develop recommendations for the Regional Transit Development Plan (RTDP), which has been branded “Envision 2030.” The RTDP will be delivered to the Florida Department of Transportation by September 1, 2020.
For more information about TBARTA and the RTDP, contact Chris Jadick, TBARTA Director of Communications, at Chris.Jadick@tbarta.com or 813-639-7743.
The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) works to advance regional transportation needs in Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Our purpose is to plan, develop, fund, implement, and operate a world-class regional transit system in Tampa Bay. For more information, visit www.TBARTA.com.