TBARTA: public transit faces cuts in funding, spike in demand

05/06/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Public transit is clearly a tough sell in Florida these days, though skyrocketing gas prices are making the case for alternative transportation. Facing increases in demand and decreases in funding, transit officials may have to do more with less.

The state legislature created Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, known commonly as TBARTA, in 2007, when times were different. Facing cuts in state funding, executive director Bob Clifford said the organization is poised to be another casualty of the 2011 legislative session.

"It looks like it's $150 million out of the trust fund and about a $10 billion loss out of the trust fund over the last 4 years. This would continue that trend."

On Monday, some members of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority Board, or HART pushed for the shelving of that agency’s alternatives analysis. It’s a very detailed study determining the viability of modes like light rail and is required to secure federal matching dollars. Clifford said if the as-yet unfinished study were to stop in its tracks, TBARTA’s overarching mission wouldn’t be deeply affected.

"One of the things we've been looking at is looking at the various projects out into the future and answering the questions of what is it, where is it, how much does it cost, when do we do it? That's a little bit different than their very specitific alternatives analysis which is necessary to move forward for funding. We're really taking a step back a little bit earlier piece, answering those first questions, they were on that next level."

News of the rail study’s potential slowdown comes the same week Floridians got word that some federal money that would have funded high speed rail in the state – had governor scott not shot down the project – are now going to Illinois. TBARTA Board member Sonny Vergara said there may be a perfect storm when it comes to support for transit in Tampa Bay, but the agency still needs to press ahead.

"Our biggest challenge is funding. What's going to be the future of TBARTA? Not so much TBARTA, but how is TBARTA going to achieve it's mission? That's really the issue."

The agency’s mission is to create a region-wide transportation master plan that would cover the transit needs of seven Tampa Bay area counties in the coming decades. These are Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco Counties. The plan includes light rail and bus enhancements. Such public transit modes have less-than-enthusiastic political and economic support. TBARTA Board Chair Ronnie Duncan said there’s something that seems lost on the public – that is, the fact that roads aren’t free.

"Somebody pays for it and the maintenance of those roads are not free. Somebody's paying for them. So the notion that this new transportation system would be a new cost, it's really not an accurate statement. I think part of our mission is and part of our responsibility is to tell the story, all the story. Not just the story relative to transit."

The board agreed that public outreach on this point is key. TBARTA executive director Bob Clifford said greater support for public transit may grow on its own this summer as gas prices get increasingly nauseating.

"The issue of $4 a gallon gas is affecting people every day. I will tell you right now our phones are ringing off the hook in our office. People looking for solutions, looking for assistance, looking for help."

Transit officials say the economy has already upped the demand for public transit. In recent months, agencies like the HART have been consistently breaking ridership records. Clifford said his office has been flooded with calls about TBARTA’s Vanpool program.

"We presently have, it's 80 something vans on the road and, as I say, I could put 30 more on the road tomorrow and they travel all the way from Citrus to the north to Sarasota to the south. Coming in, traveling all about the region."

The program, he said, works pretty much like a standard carpool. He said one van pool routinely takes a handful of passengers from Citrus County all the way to Westshore.

"You need a minimum of 5 or 6 people in a van that they sign an agreement with us, we provide them the van. It's insured, all of those things. These are all brand new vans."

Clifford said interested parties can find out more about the program on the TBARTA Web site. The agency’s next meeting will be June 3.

Previous WMNF news coverage of TBARTA

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Concerned Taxpayer

What seems lost on TBARTA is that 98% of Americans use roads everyday. On Avg only 2% use transit at a huge cost to taxpayer as related to who actually uses and benefits from especially rail. Rail makes NO SENSE in Florida and Florida taxpayers will continue to fight the issue as the elite powers to be (elected and unelected) continue to try to bamboozle voters and taxpayers. Regarding $4 gas - our energy issue can be addressed by drilling for our own oil and natural gas. Drilling would bring private enterprise long term, well paying jobs to the state of FL to bring much needed energy source to the country. We can fix our energy issue if we replace those in Congress and a President who campaigned to send energy prices soaring and bankrupt the coal industry. High gas and diesel prices affect much more than driving. TBARTA was rammed thru our state legislature in 2007 pushed by deep pocketed special interest Tampa Bay Partnership for which the TBARTA region matched exactly that of the Partnership. TBARTA is in place to push the agenda of the unelected Partnership to bamboozle taxpayers and voters to support huge costly rail initiatives that they will benefit from but will implode our local budgets and they will push for regional transit taxes we cannot afford. TBARTA duplicates what taxpayers already pay for with their local transit agencies and FDOT who has regions that can support regional decisions. Time to protect taxpayers and de-fund and dismantle TBARTA TODAY!

2 cents worth

Does that remaining 2 per cent live in a city like New York, Chicago, Boston, etc where they have already invested in mass transit generations ago? Do you know that the last time gas prices were below $1 a gallon was in the weeks after 9/11? Gasoline prices aren't as dependent on supply and demand as the oil companies would have us believe, rather they are manipulated according to the profit driven whims of the multi-nationals. Witness how the prices stayed low last summer while they dealt with the negative impact of the oil spill, and now that Congress would like to ding their profits, prices skyrocket to make us afraid of putting in restrictions. Your bought and paid for governor got rid of a High Speed Rail project that would have started us on a direction that major cities consider necessary, do you need to go after community agencies as well? Of course you do, that's why greed is a Deadly Sin.

Tell me it aint so!!!

Hay... Tampa TG… you and I actually agree with each other on this one. I don’t know whether to open an artery or a bottle of champagne!!!

Cut, Rick, Cut!

Eighty vans? What luxury. This agency can apparently easily survive cuts if they can afford to provide BRAND NEW vans to whoever asks for one! Unlimited tax money, boys! There ain't nothin' like it! Spend it like water because no one is watching. Until now. Thank goodness Rick Scott has the integrity to make the right decisions no matter how unpopular they are.