HART deals with financial struggles

04/07/08 Seán Kinane
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The Board of Directors of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) met this morning in the County Center in downtown Tampa. The board is faced with how to deal with cuts to both local and federal transit budgets.

David Persaud, HART’s chief financial officer, assessed the current financial climate heading into the 2009 fiscal year.

Persaud said that the 2010 deficits might be made up through reduced services or opportunities for federal grants. Jeff Boothe, with the law firm Holland & Knight, lobbies Congress to secure funding on behalf of HART. He addressed HART’s Revenue Alternative Task Force about federal funding opportunities.

Boothe said that in President Bush’s proposed budget, more than $200 million in funding has been cut from the Federal Transit Program. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is also in fiscal trouble, Boothe said.

Boothe gave the HART board tips on how to successfully compete for dwindling federal transportation dollars. Boothe said HART could solicit funding that would build on the success of its Bus Rapid Transit lines and that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would be more likely to subsidize a Tampa Bay transit project if residents agree to a tax to fund it and if all the local stakeholders buy in to the project.

Chief Executive Officer David Armijo said that he wants HART to be the best transit system of its size within the next five years, to provide access throughout Hillsborough County, and to double ridership, possibly modeling the success of Charlotte, North Carolina’s transit system.

Some of HART’s goals within the next few years, according to Armijo, are to increase spending on transit from $21 per person, which is the lowest among peer cities, and to increase the frequency of busses along certain routes to as frequently as every 10 minutes.

Mike McCoy is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593 in Tampa, the union representing some HART employees. McCoy questioned why HART might consider outsourcing the paratransit operation called HART Plus, vans that provide people with disabilities rides when normal bus service isn’t accessible.

The service costs HART about $30 to provide and charges riders $3. If HART does insist on outsourcing the paratransit, McCoy asks that they work with the union to come up with a solution that will keep the experienced workers employed.

The HART Board honored former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco by naming the covered streetcar stop across from the Tampa Convention Center Greco Plaza. The Plaza will also have a bronze statue of Greco. The next HART Board meeting will be May 5 at 8:30 a.m. on the 18th floor of the County Center.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Photo caption: Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco speaks in support of Amendment One in January.

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