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Roundup 1-11-2013

January 11, 2013


As regular readers will know, there has been much discussion of studies regarding merger/consolidation of HART and PSTA.

In December, after hours of discussion, the boards of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority agreed to ask Tallahassee to pay for a second consolidation study. The first one found that a merger would save the two agencies about $2.4 million a year but said a more detailed analysis was needed.

So the obvious thing to do is study it more, which both boards agreed to do.

However, the HART board has always been more skeptical than the PSTA board. Last week we featured a letter to the editor by the Chairman of HART where she said that HART had taken no action except to say that the board would not support a merger without a referendum.   Fine.  Except, this week, arguably not coincidentally the same week the Ringling Brothers Circus was also performing downtown, the HART Board did more – they rescinded the vote in favor of a second study. Why?

HART board member John Melendez was blunt in his criticism of Latvala.

“There’s a politician in Pinellas County who has an agenda and wants to advance it,” Melendez said.

Since when does residence of a proponent have anything to do with the strength or weakness of their idea?  And, even more inexplicably though consistently:

Board members said they were concerned that asking state lawmakers for a second study would give the impression that Hillsborough is open to the idea of a merger. It isn’t.

“If we allow this to go forward, it is a signal to the Legislature that we are willing to look at consolidation as an endgame,” said HART board member Mike Suarez, a Tampa City Council member.

Actually, it wouldn’t.  It would show that the HART board is serious in serving the owners of HART the taxpayers, in the most efficient way possible. And the HART Board did more:

After withdrawing its approval for a second study, the board voted to meet regularly with the PSTA board and develop a “strategic coordination plan” to determine how the agencies can work together.

It also passed a resolution condemning any attempt by the state Legislature to merge the two agencies without letting voters have a say.

That’s all well and good, but, the HART Board’s behavior makes it questionable whether they really want to work with the PSTA in a meaningful way.  Moreover, as evidenced by the City Councilman’s comments above, the HART board is prejudging what “Hillsborough” wants.  Isn’t the referendum the Board allegedly wants before any merger precisely the method to determine whether Hillsborough is open to the idea?  If the Board was really doing their jobs, they would do the second study and see what comes out of it.

On the other hand, consistent with our view of acknowledging when people do the right thing:

Mark Sharpe, a HART board member and Hillsborough County commissioner, disagreed. He and board members Sandra Murman and Eddie Vance were the only ones to vote against the change.

“We have an obligation to look at the most efficient use of our staff and our moneys,” Sharpe said. “I don’t see why that’s something we should challenge.”

Indeed, Commissioner.  But obstinacy like that shown by the majority of the HART Board is what keeps our area from advancing as it should.

At least PSTA seems to get it:

Now that HART has changed its position, the PSTA board could amend its vote as well, said its chairman, Jeff Danner, a St. Petersburg City Council member. The PSTA board is considering a resolution supporting a second study and asking the state to give the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority a more active role in coordinating the agencies’ work.

“We need something that is more formal,” Danner said, saying that in the six years he has served on the PSTA board, it has met with HART’s board only a handful of times. Unless the two boards are required to meet and discuss creating a common website and a shared fare structure, it won’t happen, he said.

Unfortunately for the area, while PTSA was thinking regionally, HART is mired in the provincialism of the past.  The likely result is delay and inefficiency you pay for.

One more note, in the press release put out by HART about this decision we learn the following:

In other matters, the HART Board voted to form a Transit-Oriented Development Steering Committee to make recommendations about ways to improve economic development by better coordination of new construction and redevelopment around transit corridors, such as MetroRapid North-South.

“This is one way we can get all of our transportation players together so we can make our system work better,” said Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez, who serves on the HART Board and introduced this proposal.

We are all for transit related development (though we still have our doubts about whether upgraded buses will bring any real transit oriented development, especially with Tampa’s planning and code), but we also see the big picture, which HART studiously avoids.  The big picture is that transportation is much bigger than MetroRapid.  The transportation system belongs to the taxpayers, involves regional issues, and the HART Board’s votes, and the Councilman’s comments above, clearly don’t bring it “all of our transportation players together” to find ways to make it work better and save money.

The bottom line is we are never going to get anywhere if we can’t get past the myopic, small town politics on show at HART.  We hope organizations like Connect Tampa Bay take on issues like this.

(As a complete aside: We note that Connect Tampa Bay has started a fundraising campaign. We just want to renew our caution to Connect Tampa Bay, which we support generally – though we are not sure there are any specifics yet – that they should be careful from whom they take money.  It would be a shame if the grass roots organization founded by young professionals was somehow compromised by the traditional political forces that have blocked progress and created the need for a group like Connect Tampa Bay in the first place.  In our local political climate, groups are routinely marginalized if there is not a degree of separation between them and those they are trying to influence.)

This Tea Party is Sparsely Attended

We think this is a good place to note that the very GOP leaning Rasmussen polling company recently released a poll on support for the Tea Party:

Views of the Tea Party movement are at their lowest point ever, with voters for the first time evenly divided when asked to match the views of the average Tea Party member against those of the average member of Congress.  Only eight percent (8%) now say they are members of the Tea Party, down from a high of 24% in April 2010 just after passage of the national health care law. 

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 30% of Likely U.S. Voters now have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party. Half (49%) of voters have an unfavorable view of the movement. Twenty-one percent (21%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

2013 is not 2010.

Getting Grayer – Is That Replacement Hip?

This week the Tribune began a Pinellas section. That led to a number of interesting articles.  One article was about how the Mayor of Tampa is looking to St. Pete, among other places, for ideas to help downtown Tampa. (We suggest he look to how they have urban designs in even smaller buildings, as described in this.) The actual information about St. Pete wasn’t that interesting, but the Mayor of Tampa’s comments were.

“It became kind of a hip place to be. Beach Drive in particular is an example of how you do it right,” Buckhorn said.

“What they have in St. Petersburg is residential development mixed with cultural arts. They have done a great job with that.”

Back with the “hip” thing again?  Anyway, it is true, St. Pete has a good mix of residential and (and we hate this term) “cultural arts” (really, what are “cultural arts”?  How is that different from the run of the mill arts?).  More importantly, St. Pete has street retail and didn’t tear down the most of its old buildings.  (Let’s hope they work out saving the old YMCA. see here and here.) On the other hand, St. Pete does not have nearly as much office space downtown as Tampa nor does it have a river cutting off a lot of residents from downtown – so the dynamic is a little different.  Nevertheless:

As the Tribune noted in a story Sunday, downtown St. Petersburg takes advantage of its waterfront with a variety of drinking, dining and entertainment options. Buckhorn’s strategy for Tampa has some of that, particularly on the residential part. So when I asked him Monday what his city will look like in three to five years, it was all about the number of downtown-dwellers.

“When you put heads in beds, retail will follow,” he said. “You’ll see a major grocery store downtown. You’ll see bars and restaurants and development along the west bank. Channelside will be alive. Riverwalk will be done.”

And then this dose of refreshing and surprising reality from the article:

It all sounds good, but we’ve heard stories about developments before that never happened. People have been talking for decades about what to do about Tampa’s lack of downtown nightlife, but Buckhorn said it’s more than a matter of aesthetics. It’s long-term economic survival. He calls that “the bigger strategy.”

Ok, please elaborate.

“When young people leave town, they take their intellectual capital with them,” he said. “We have to stop that brain drain.”

That’s why it is smart to study what they’re doing in Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Austin. Those are prime relocation spots for young people in the Southeast.

“We were losing a lot of our young people because they saw those other places as hipper places to be. That’s why buzz is so important,” Buckhorn said. “It’s not just bricks and mortar. It’s about an attitude.”

That means live music, entertainment, food trucks, culture, sporting events and a sense of living someplace special. That’s the blueprint.

He is right that those are PART of the blueprint. So is a walkable environment, street retail, true urban development, and a real entertainment district that the City does not suppress every time it gets really booming. (And a political culture reminiscent of a feuding home owners association is not part of the blueprint.)

Another part of the blueprint is business – as in good paying jobs.  Raleigh-Durham is the heart of the research triangle and has a number of major universities (and Raleigh is the state capital), Charlotte is a business center and an airline hub.  Austin has the University of Texas basically downtown, a number of major tech companies, and is the capital of the second largest state.

Another thing Charlotte and Austin have is rail transit. (Raleigh is working on it.)

Those are ALL part of the blueprint. (We’ll say here that we think the Mayor gets it.  It is just a question of what he will do about it.)

We agree that we need to the young professionals. How is the Tampa Bay area doing on that young professional thing? Well, the Times tangentially had an answer:

The Tampa Bay metro area will enjoy a solid if not booming return of population growth after several recession years when Florida lost or, at best, gained few residents.

What’s more, Tampa Bay will be one of the faster aging metro areas in the United States.

* * *

On the flip side, the “graying” of Tampa Bay may make it tougher to ever call this metro area a hot or even lukewarm spot for young adults who tend to migrate where other young people cluster. These days, cities popular with those 20 to 35 range from Washington, D.C., and Houston and Austin in Texas to Denver, Portland and Seattle.

In other words, not so well.  Is there a spin that can be put on that?

Reading demographics can be tricky. While Tampa Bay may rank No. 2 as a graying metro area, that’s happening here for different reasons than in many other aging cities. Other than Tampa Bay and Miami, all of the fastest aging metro areas are northern industrial relics like Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit. Those Rust Belt cities are getting older because so many young people have departed for more promising places, and because immigrants bypass them for warmer climates and perceived opportunities elsewhere.

But Tampa Bay and Miami are mostly growing older because of boomers heading this way.

We can buy that explanation, and we have no problem growing in all sectors, but why isn’t the number of young keeping pace or exceeding the older demographic?

Probably because, as a region, we are still working with half a blueprint and implementing that inconsistently.  And our lack of regionalism does not help.

How to Increase Transit Ridership

There is a lot of debate about what makes for a good transit environment.  Most often discussed is the need for a dense central business district.  While we certainly favor proper urban development, including a dense downtown, apparently that is not the key.

For the full group of 82 metro areas, the analysis showed no statistical relationship between central business districts and transit commute shares, when all other variables were considered. Four other variables did have a significant link with ridership: service frequency, service coverage, car ownership, and unemployment. (The importance of coverage and car ownership confirm other recent work that focused on major rail systems.)

Service frequency and service coverage – hear that HART. . .  We know that HART and PSTA both are hitting record numbers, but it seems they could do even better – maybe they should study how.

MacDill – No and Wait

Word came through this week that MacDill AFB will not be getting new air force refueling tankers in the first deployment of the new aircraft.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that MacDill Air Force Base is no longer in the running to win the first of the Air Force’s next-generation air refueling aircraft the Boeing Co. will begin delivering by 2017.

The decision is a blow to Tampa Bay and the bipartisan political effort to persuade the Air Force to assign the new tankers to MacDill. It guarantees MacDill’s aging fleet of 16 KC-135 refuelers will remain a fixture in the skies around Tampa for decades to come.

So can MacDill get any refuelers in the future?

MacDill is unlikely to get any of those 179 aircraft, according to Air Force documents released Wednesday. If MacDill gets any new planes at all, the documents indicate, it will be after 2028 when the Air Force tentatively plans to launch a competition to design and build two additional models, now called KC-y and KC-z.

But late Wednesday, there was some confusion among political and Air Force officials about whether MacDill is absolutely prohibited from getting any future KC-46s at all because it lost this first round of assignments. The Air Force is always free to change its selection criteria.

At least, there is this:

“I want to stress that the KC-135 units not replaced with the KC-46 will continue to fly . . . for the foreseeable future,” Welsh said in a written statement.

Young said the general told him “MacDill will have tankers for the rest of our lives and the lives of our children.”

Port – Ambiguous New Service

There was news from the port this week:

The Port of Tampa just went global.

Mediterranean Shipping Co., the second-largest shipping container line in the world, has linked Tampa to its planetwide shipping network, the Tampa Port Authority announced Wednesday.

We wrote about this previously.  One thing we noted was it was unclear whether this service was essentially a codeshare with the present Zim container service or was new service with new ships because the Biz Journal reported: “The new service will be in partnership with Zim Integrated Shipping Services.

It is still unclear.  New connections are nice.  New ships bringing containers are really nice.

TIA – Less Cuban Service

In sad news, we learned this week that TIA will be losing two of its five weekly flights to Cuba. We really don’t have much to say about this except to say  that it is a setback and that we are disappointed. At least we will retain three weekly flights to Cuba.  Hopefully, as a result of the cuts, the remaining flights will be stronger.  And, hopefully, TIA will land more international (and domestic) service soon.

PTC – Shenanigans

There was a really bizarre story involving the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, which:

regulates vehicles for-hire as defined in the Special Act and these include taxicabs, limousines, vans, basic life support ambulances and those wrecker services that support government agencies such as the law enforcement agencies in Hillsborough County and non-consensual towing (private property impounds).

So what happened?

Victor Crist was taken aback last month when he got his agenda packet for the December meeting of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

Among the supposedly non-controversial consent items was an evaluation of agency executive director Cesar Padilla listing Crist, a Hillsborough County commissioner who is the new chairman of the PTC, as the author. Padilla had scored largely “fives” on a one-to-five scale and the comments made liberal use of words such as “excellent,” “exemplary” and “adept.”

“Mr. Padilla is an outstanding leader,” read one complimentary passage. “He is often placed in difficult circumstances, but he has exemplary wisdom and compassion. These qualities enable him to lead with grace, despite the stressful circumstances that are presented to him regularly.”

There was one problem: Crist didn’t write the evaluation, Padilla did.

When Crist asked what gives, he said he was told that’s the way it’s always been done at the PTC.

What?  Frankly, the whole PTC seems to be a hold over from a by-gone era. In fact, a few years ago, there was a move to eliminate the PTC that ultimately failed:

But what made the nearly two-hour debate fascinating was about who was supporting maintaining the PTC, and who would like to see it destroyed.  Speaking in support were representatives from the most part from the limousine industry, many dressed in suits and ties.

And it was the definition of the working class who spoke out strongly against the Public Transportation Commission – cab drivers, who disgustedly recounted how they say the agency is arbitrary and unfair in how they regulate cab drivers. Many of those cabbies said they had been hounded by inspectors gratuitously and that they believe the agency was all about stifling competition.

On that final point, a year before the move to eliminate the PTC, it worked to kill an electric car limo service in downtown Tampa, which was replaced by the owner of an existing cab company. Moreover, a former County Commissioner was caught in a bribery sting involving the PTC.

It is unclear what useful public function the PTC serves. Most tellingly:

Hillsborough County is the only county in Florida that has such a regulatory body.

So it is unnecessary.  Dissolving the PTC might create a little more work for elected officials, but at least elected officials’ job reviews are written by the voters, not themselves.

This is looking to us like a strand of the Tampa DNA that needs to be changed if not just expunged.

Built Environment – How Not To Settle

We often complain that Tampa settles for poor designs that inhibit its development and (allegedly) desired urbanization.  To illustrate our point, we like to show examples of what could be.  This week we feature a Wal-Mart – yup, Wal-Mart – planned for Midtown Miami.

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for website

No, the design is not art, but it is urban. (Though it could use some better trees and awnings.) If Wal-Mart will do this, others will, too. And it is another example that we do not need to settle.

Coming Out Watch – Sort of

The New York Times had an article this week on why Nashville is a hot location right now.  The reason we are noting it is that it is exactly the kind of article about the Tampa Bay area we were looking for (and really expecting) around the time of the RNC.  However, we didn’t find one.  You can find the Nashville article here.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is the Atlantic Cities list of most fanatical football cities. The top 5 are New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami and LA. Oddly, looking at this map

From Atlantic Cities – click on map for website

the Tampa Bay area would seem to rank high on the list, but in the text, it does not show up at all.  And this list isn’t even from Travel & Leisure.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is Redbook’s list of the Most Romantic Date Destinations in America.

They were not numbered but St. Pete was among those places listed – more technically “stand-up paddleboarding” in St. Pete.  Of course, so was Pittsburgh, so we are not sure what criteria were used, but that is something.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    January 11, 2013 11:19 AM

    Don’t worry about Connect Tampa Bay. We are trying to raise $100 from 100 people. Many of our donors have given less than $100. I know this group will only be successful if it is people, not corporate and consultant driven. Thanks for your support and concern!

    On Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 10:47 AM, tampasphere

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