Friday, April 21, 2017

Ridership Declining: No Need For Regional Transit Agency, Big Need to Fix Interstates and HF Bridge

Tampa, Fl
From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

Special interests, lobbyists, Senator Latvala and their media enablers are feverishly working together to force a regional transit authority on Tampa Bay taxpayers. However, they cannot ignore the state of transit in Hillsborough and Pinellas - double digit ridership declines. Hillsborough's population is growing but its transit ridership is declining.

At the HART Board Finance and Audit Committee meeting this week, the budgetary pressures on HART were presented and discussed. The chart below from the budget presentation, found here, reflects HART's current budget issues.
HART's budgetary pressures
The video of the lengthy committee meeting that includes this presentation is found here.

To net things out, HART has a deficit of a little over $13 million dollars. The major causes of the deficit are declining ridership and rising healthcare costs (thanks Obamacare…) HART moved to using zero based budgeting this budget cycle that enabled them to reduce that deficit to about $8.5 million. (shows why zero based budgeting should be used by all taxpayer funded entities…)

The budget will be part of HART's Board meeting agendas from May through August with Budget public hearings in September. The May 1 HART Board meeting will be interesting and one to watch and pay attention to.

Across the Bay in Pinellas, PSTA, mismanaged for years, is experiencing ridership declines as well.

This recent Tampa Bay Guardian article states PSTA's ridership is at a 10 year low. Even when PSTA made rides free on the Jolly Trolley, ridership for the Jolly Trolley was 52,235 in March, down a whopping 34% from 79,045 in March of 2016. And tourism is booming again in Pinellas.

The Guardian article also indicates how ridership is defined which overstates the number of actual riders. There is also a bit of a scandal regarding the recent contract for the trolley service and some sketchy changes to reporting done by PSTA.

HART and PSTA's declining ridership is what almost every transit agency in the country, except in NYC, is experiencing.

Existing rail systems are entering an era of disrepair as we have a backlog of $80 Billion of major repair and rehab needed. Trump's skinny budget eliminates the federal New Starts/Small Starts and Tiger grants for new transit projects. Trump has stated he wants to focus on getting our existing infrastructure in good repair.

Yet today taxpayers are funding another transit campaign, this time a regional one, the $1.6 million Regional Premium Transit campaign. The cost of this latest campaign is ghastly - especially after the $1.3 million Go Hillsborough debacle.

And conveniently timed with the transit campaign is Senator Latvala's bill. His bill will force taxpayers in Tampa Bay to fund a regional transit authority that takes away local control and will trigger  regional taxing.

What's more egregious is how the bill was created, the unscrupulous politics and the bully tactics being used. The bill was created behind the scenes by the same special interests organization who has been the biggest supporter of rail in Tampa Bay.

Latvala used  abused his powerful Appropriations Chair position in the Senate by playing games with the process rules and holding appropriations bills hostage to get his way to move the bill along. Fortunately Senators Lee and Brandes amended the bill to reign in some of the shenanigans we fully expect with a regional transit authority. Their efforts are greatly appreciated but we hope the bill dies.

With declining transit ridership in Tampa Bay, Latvala's bill and the costly transit campaign is absurd. Considering the state of our existing infrastructure and getting any federal dollars for new transit projects may be a pipe dream, these are out of touch with reality.

Tampa Bay has a transportation issue it needs to address not a sudden regional transit issue and it certainly does not need another transit agency, an arms length away from voters and taxpayers, to fund.

Regional transit authorities become very powerful, arrogant, wasteful and require higher taxes. Almost all, if not all, of the rail boondoggles were rammed through regional transit agencies pushed by deep pocketed special interests.

The focus needs to be on getting our existing infrastructure in good repair FIRST.

Focus on fixing and improving our interstates - the foundation of our transportation system in Tampa Bay - add the needed managed lane capacity that also creates a bus transit corridor that could also be used by AV's in the near future, fix the chokepoints and fix the Howard Frankland Bridge that hundreds of thousands of people in 180K vehicles use everyday. FDOT has the funding, no tax hike needed, to get this done.

Do the Basics First!

Stop pursuing the absurd.


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Here again is the Genesis for Latvala's regional transit bill today. Everyone should watch it.

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