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Roundup 1-20-2012

January 20, 2012

HART/PSTA

The Tribune ran an article on HART/PSTA consolidation that discussed the number of commuters riding buses between Pinellas and Hillsborough.

About 40,000 commuters travel from Pinellas County to Hillsborough County every weekday, while another 30,000 head from Hillsborough to Pinellas to work.

But fewer than 200 people a day ride the buses the across Tampa Bay that the two county’s transit systems jointly provide.

Those findings in a recent report by a University of South Florida transportation expert reflect the austere reality of local transit operations versus what might be a welcome alternative to driving to work.

Both the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority reported record ridership in the past year.

But the small ridership on the three county-to-county routes they provide indicates factors beyond a disdain for riding a bus are at play in cross-bay travel.

Actually, it does not necessarily indicate that anything is at work other than the inadequacy of and disdain for bus service.  But it might, so more about the expert:

USF professor Steve Polzin, a HART board member, provided the following ridership information from recent HART and PSTA data:

“These routes have been designed numerous times and outfitted with premium vehicles and Wi-Fi, and are attractively priced on a cost-per-mile basis, and yet they struggle to be as productive as desired,” Polzin reported.

The reasons: Not enough population density, not much concentration of white-collar jobs in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa, too little demand from suburban residential locations and 400 square miles of Tampa Bay between the two counties. That leaves transportation functioning differently in the Bay area than in most metropolitan areas.

Yes, the bay causes issues, but many areas have geographical issues.  So does the lack of proper urban planning throughout the Tampa Bay area – but the lack of proper transit and the lack of urban development are inherently connected issues caused by the failure of regional leaders to address proper development.

The lack of people riding the bus would seem to indicate that people don’t like riding a bus. The question is why would anyone want to sit in bus in traffic on one of the bridges rather than drive.  But we will entertain other factors, so is there further explanation:

Planners are considering the use of managed lanes on Interstate 275 that could help buses travel more quickly, but long-distance trips present expensive challenges because buses and drivers cannot be used effectively in both directions and throughout the day.

For example, a commute from downtown Clearwater to downtown Tampa would require the bus leave Clearwater by 6:30 a.m. to deliver travelers to downtown Tampa jobs before 8 a.m.

That vehicle and driver could return to Clearwater, but by the time they arrived, rush-hour demand would have passed, leaving little opportunity for the bus and driver to be deployed productively until the evening rush.

The above quote seems to us to support for consolidation of HART and PSTA as a way to create better service that would attract more riders – at least those who do not hate the idea of riding a bus.  According to the article: a bus coming from Pinellas to Tampa takes too long to go back to Pinellas to serve more riders at rush hour.

That issue is supremely logical – but not inevitable.  What is not logical is that the same bus spends a decent amount of time unproductively.  Why doesn’t the bus continue in Tampa to serve local routes and be productive during the day, then return to Clearwater in the afternoon rush hour.  The same is true of buses going the other way.  The reason the buses do not do this, and, according to this article, are not used productively all day, is because HART and PSTA are different organizations serving their counties.  In other words, the article makes an argument for consolidation.  However some disagree:

“My current opinion is that there is not a compelling reason or data-based argument for consolidating public transportation operations,” Polzin said. He stressed that is his personal observation and not HART or USF outlooks.

This is a perfect example of the reasons the idea of consolidation should not be prejudged and should be studied to see if it makes sense.

Pinellas Rail – Learning from Hillsborough

The Times ran an interesting article on developing plans in Pinellas for a possible rail system there and not repeating Hillsborough’s failure.

Hopes for a different outcome hinge on a newly released study by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, which recommends a 24-mile route that stretches south from downtown Clearwater along a CSX freight corridor, twists east toward the Gateway area, then south again to downtown St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field along Interstate 275.

From the Times - click on picture for full article

Even better PSTA is trying to learn from other’s mistakes:

Those pushing for light rail in Pinellas County closely watched how voters rejected a penny sales tax for transit in Hillsborough County — and took notes.

“I don’t think (Hillsborough) was ready,” said St. Petersburg City Council member Jeff Danner of the November 2010 vote. “It was more politically driven, and practical things, like routes and cost, hadn’t been figured out yet. We’re going about it much differently.”

Estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion, the proposed system won’t be sprung on an unsuspecting public. Instead, transportation officials will spend the next year holding meetings to discuss the project and collecting comments from residents. It’s unclear when county commissioners will vote to put a tax on the ballot, but the earliest residents could decide would be 2013 or 2014.

That deliberate pace puts the project on a better track for success, said Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel.

“We are further along than Hillsborough was,” Seel said. “We’ve already done a study. We’ve chosen the routes and looked at the financial feasibility. We’ve been very cautious in our approach. It hurt their case in Hillsborough that they didn’t have the routes and costs. We are going to fully vet this.”

We are very encouraged that Pinellas is trying to work out all the issues before asking for money.  We will wait to see what they come up with. As we have said many times, it makes no sense to ask people to pay for something before telling them what they are paying for. Unfortunately, Hillsborough did that and is now far behind not just other metropolitan areas but other counties in our area. But all should remember – the system, to be most effective, needs to be regional.

Finally, we hope that Pinellas officials look at the study on passing a referendum we referenced in the last Roundup.  In case they missed it, click here  to go to it.

Channelside may be ready to start growing again

We ran across this little nugget in the Tampa Bay Business Journal:

Hardin has been selected to build The Martin at Meridian, up to 650 units next to Grand Central at Kennedy in the Channel District.

Mercury Advisors of Tampa is developing the project. Construction could begin in March or April, McKee said.

From Mercury Advisors - click picture for their website and more renderings

Needless to say we would like to see this kind of dense, urban oriented development continue in Channelside – and elsewhere. (The only sad thing is that a nice old building got torn down for this to get built)

Port and Cuba

The Port Director is being sent by the Port Authority board on a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Cuba trade mission.  That is a positive development.

[L]ocal business interests have encouraged port officials to lay groundwork in the event that trade restrictions are lessened, an unlikely prospect before the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

While we wonder why the impetus came from local business leaders rather than the Port Director, hopefully it will be fruitful and not just going through the motions.  There is no reason other cities and states should profit from Cuba trade instead of Tampa.

More Port

In other news, the Port is buying some land (landlocked, actually) near Port Redwing.

About 90 acres of the South Bay Corp. land are developable. The landlocked property is located between CSX Transportation    ’s mainline track and U.S. 41, east of the Port Redwing ship berths.

We think it is good for the Port to have land to expand.  We would like to know what the vision/plan for expansion is.  One thing that seems to make sense is to work very hard to attract some type of large scale manufacturing (preferably high tech or heavy industry) to take advantage of the road, rail and sea links and diversify our economy.

Ein Kleinen Davos/Un Petit Davos/Una Piccola Davos

The Tribune ran a story on a group of prominent business leaders meeting as the “No Name” club.

The No Name club of business elites has been around for more than a decade, but doesn’t appear in any news clips. Some elected leaders have never heard of it. Others have, but won’t talk about it on the record.

On Wednesday, Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial, acknowledged he is the leader of the No Namers and described them as a select group of local chief executives who have lunched together privately for years to chat about public issues.

* * *

Still, the No Namers’ silence has left many wondering what the members — who employ thousands of people with companies that bring in billions of dollars — are getting together to talk about.

“I would be extremely surprised if a group that successful is not at least trying to impact issues like high-speed rail, or the Rays — not necessarily their location but their retention,” said local attorney Marty Traber, who is aware of the group but isn’t a member.

Hey, there’s a surprise – powerful people meeting to try to shape policy.  The real question is why, even with this group, there is so much silly policy in the Tampa Bay area.

Light News

Finally, some light news – pun completely intended (and awful).  The City of Tampa wants to permanently illuminate the bridges over the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa starting before the Republican Convention this summer.

From Times - click on picture for full article

We think this is a nice idea (though we think there is a long way to go before Tampa is compared to Paris, like the article sort of does) and generally favor it – though final judgment is reserved until we see what the final result actually is.

On interesting note is that a Tampa City Councilwoman wants to make sure about the plan which was apparently just given to her:

Mary Mulhern likes the idea and said so.

But when council members were asked to expedite a vote on funding, Mulhern protested and urged them to follow normal protocol.

“I didn’t know anything about this until I read it in the paper,” she said. “I don’t feel that I’m able to really do my job as a council member appointed to a committee.”

* * *

Mulhern was particularly perturbed because, even as the council’s delegate to the public art committee, she hadn’t been briefed on the latest developments in the bridge illumination program.

But she also wants to make sure she and other council members have adequate information before proceeding.

“I think there was plenty of time to get it on here over the past couple of weeks,” Mulhern said. “Then we could have had it on the agenda today so that we would have had an opportunity to actually know what exactly we’re voting on.”

While plans to work with the artist have been in the making for years, the project only recently obtained funding, Nigh said.

Like we said, we like the illumination idea – as does the Councilwoman.  We think there is a very good chance it will happen.  However, we agree with the Councilwoman on following procedures.

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