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Roundup 5-9-2014

May 9, 2014

Uber, Lyft, Transportation, and Economic Development

In the week it was reported that authorities are now ticketing Uber and Lyft drivers, we thought it might be a good time to really get to what the Uber/Lyft debate really says about our area.

— Protectionism for Traditional Cabs

First, the actual ticketing issue, from abcactionnews.com:

It’s a popular way for some people to get around Tampa Bay. But authorities say drivers for ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber are operating outside the law.

Over the weekend police began ticketing the drivers $800 each.

It seems like it is the PTC itself (not really police) giving the tickets.

It is funny the lengths that the PTC is going to find the public menace of Uber and Lyft:

“We have been out at night, especially in the greater downtown area and have only observed one Lyft vehicle operating,” Cockream said. “A warning was given, as this is the first time we have come into contact with this driver. Generally speaking, we are questioning how many (few) active drivers there are operating in Tampa.”

Cockream said taxi drivers are on the lookout for Lyft and Uber drivers, but “they have only seen a couple Lyft drivers around in the last week or so.”

Though Cockream said he’d rather not disclose his agency’s methods for finding the rare Lyft or Uber driver, he said it was possible that investigators would download the apps and request rides to locate drivers.

So the PTC is using cabs to hunt the competitors of the cabs.  Clearly, the PTC (namely County Commissioners and City Council members) is not an enforcer for the cab companies.

And if you need more silliness:

Another issue is that Hillsborough County is maxed out with 683 cabs, Tamargo said, based on an established ratio of one taxi per 1,900 residents. “We have some [spots] coming open in the next four or five months,” he added. “It’s an auction-type deal.”

Buckhorn scoffed at the cab cap. “Why shouldn’t the market dictate the capacity?” he said. “Why not give consumers more choice, at lower rates?”

The Mayor is right – and who established that ratio?  How is that not manipulating the market for the benefit of a limited number of people, a/k/a crony capitalism?

But:

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn allows that there’s not much he can do about the ticketing — he says it’s up to the Florida legislature to abolish the commission — but he’s unequivocal in his support of the alternative ride services.

We’re fine with supporting alternative ride services in words, but he is wrong that he has to wait for the legislature.  (He could use his reported powers of persuasion to move the City Council members and County Commissioners on the PTC to change the rules.)  The problem with the PTC is the PTC, not the legislature.  The PTC could always have reasonable, logical rules.  It just chooses not to.

And we doubt change will happen because we were told this last year, by the same County Commissioner who keeps telling us he wants to reform the PTC:

Calls to get rid of the PTC tend to focus on past problems, Crist said. 

Other local governments, including the County Commission and the city of Tampa, have had problems of their own, he said, and no one suggests eliminating them.

“The PTC of today is different than the PTC of yesterday,” Crist said.

Since becoming chairman, Crist said he has demanded new bylaws, new operating procedures and a new set of policies for the board.

That was last year.  And it still is anti-competitive, protectionist, etc.  (There is not even attempt to find a solution, say like this attempt in Dallas.  Even France is arguably more pro-competition than the PTC since it rejects minimum fares, though the “no map in app” rule is completely bizarre.)   In other words, the problem is the people on the PTC.

So what did Uber say?

Rachel Holt, Uber East Coast’s regional general manager, said the company stands by its drivers who received citations.

“Since arriving in Tampa, we’ve received an overwhelming demand for services like Uber from both riders and drivers – if one our partners receives a citation, we will stand by them and reimburse any costs,” Holt said in a statement. “That said, it’s clear the (Hillsborough Transportation Commission) only intends to protect taxi special interests instead of listening to Tampa Bay residents asking for more choice and innovation in transportation.”

It is clear.  So, why does any of this matter?

— The Left Behind Series, Cont.

We have previously written about what Millennials (you know, the future and people we allegedly want to attract to/keep in the area) want in transportation and the places they live. (See “Transportation – What We Should Already Know”)  This week we ran across a new report regarding a survey by the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America.  You can tell the crux for the report from the press release headline: “Access to Public Transportation a Top Criterion for Millennials When Deciding Where to Live, New Survey Shows” (The full report can be found here.) What does it say?

A large majority of Millennials want access to better transit options and the ability to be less reliant on a car, according to a new survey of Millennials in 10 major U.S. cities, released today by The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America.  More than half (54%) of Millennials surveyed say they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around, and 66% say that access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria they would weight when deciding where to live.

The survey, conducted by Global Strategy Group, examined Millennials’ perceptions and attitudes towards public transportation in 10 major U.S. cities across three ‘tiers’ of transportation systems – “mature” (Chicago, New York City, San Francisco),”growing” (Charlotte, N.C.;  Denver, Colo.;  Los Angeles; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.) and “aspiring” (Indianapolis, Ind.; Nashville, Tenn.; Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fl.).  The survey was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and supported by Transportation for America.

According to the survey, Millennials aspire to be less reliant on a car. Almost half (46%) of current vehicle owners surveyed agree they would seriously consider giving up their car if they could count on a range of transportation options. Only 27% of Millennials in cities with “mature” public transportation systems (including Chicago, New York, San Francisco) say it is very important to have regular access to a car or truck in their city, versus 60% of Millennials living in cities with “growing” transit systems (including Charlotte, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul) and 82% of Millennials living in cities with “aspiring” public transportation systems (including Indianapolis, Nashville, Tampa-St. Petersburg). Millennials say it is important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car (86% agree in mature cities, 82% in growing cities, and 77% in aspiring cities).

That all seems pretty clear to us. And then there is this:

The benefits of improved public transit aren’t limited to not wanting to depend on a car to get around. Almost all Millennials (91%) also believe that investing in quality public transportation systems creates more jobs and improves the economy.

 When asked about transportation options, such as public transportation, car- and bike-sharing services, and pedestrian friendly streets, 80% of Millennials say it’s important to have a wide range of options, and over half of Millennials surveyed (54%) would consider moving to another city if it offered a wider, better range of options for getting around.

So, as we have been saying, a real transportation system is important for economic development and attracting Millennials.  Interestingly the numbers for active Boomers are close:

An even larger percentage — 81 percent of Millennials and 77 percent of Active Boomers — said affordable and convenient transportation alternatives to the car were at least somewhat important when deciding where to live and work. More than four out of every 10 Millennials (43 percent) said alternatives to the car were either very important or extremely important, as did 50 percent of respondents who live in an urban area.

(pg 25-26 of the pdf)

Even more interestingly, if you look at the survey (pg 22 of the pdf) a large majority of Millennials (74%) and a majority (60%) of active Boomers think that investing in the community (education, transportation options – so not just roads, and walkable areas) is a better way to develop the economy than recruiting companies. (Note this does not include subsidizing strip malls) Of course, if you build a proper, well-functioning city, that will help recruiting business.  If you ignore it, it is harder to recruit.

And specifically on the “sharing economy,” like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, etc.:

The emerging “sharing” economy is particularly of interest to Millennials but attracts important support from other groups as well. Nearly three-fourths of Millennials in the APA poll (73 percent) said the sharing  economy was at least somewhat important to them compared with 57 percent of Generation Xers and 46 percent of Active Boomers. One in five Millennials (21 percent) said the sharing economy was very important or extremely important. Also, the number living in urban areas who said the sharing economy as at least somewhat important was 67 percent — 20 points higher than its rank by those living in a small town (47 percent). Fifty-nine percent from suburbs said it was at least somewhat important.

(pg 29 of the pdf)

And this is not the only report like this dealing with Millennials and where and how they want to live.  Time recently had a similar report.  As did Nielsen. Then there was this from a Times article on Greenlight Pinellas (see next item):

Greenlight supporters said Friday that more busing alone is not enough for the region to be competitive.

Mercedes Sanchez Van Woerkom, managing director for equity research at Raymond James, travels around the country visiting top business programs at schools such as the University of Chicago and New York University. Many of the nation’s most talented students about to enter the job market don’t own a car.

“When I’m asked the question, would this pose a problem, it pains me to say yeah, it would in our area,” Van Woerkom said.

We know Pinellas is already trying.  It is well past time for government officials in Hillsborough County, especially the Commissioners on the PTC, to start listening and act.  Every day the County (and area, really) is further out of step and waiting for the “Transportation for Economic Development” committee (which has many of the same people as the PTC) to actually just propose something while other areas have already created or are in the process of creating conditions for continued economic success is not really sufficient.

Greenlight Pinellas – Some Endorsements, Some Questions

Speaking of others moving forward, Greenlight Pinellas added some endorsements last week.

The political action group backing the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax referendum trotted out some heavy hitting supporters Friday.

Among them: the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Obviously we are focused on making it more convenient for our fans to get to and from the games from throughout the entire Tampa Bay region, but more importantly to the Rays, this is an economic development issue,” team president Matt Silverman said at news conference at St. Anthony’s Hospital. “When companies look to relocate to the Tampa Bay area, transportation is a key factor and currently is something that is working against us.”

Representatives from Raymond James Financial, BayCare Health System, St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas Realtor Association also announced support for the Nov. 4 referendum. Voters will decide whether to raise the county’s sales tax by a penny, to 8 cents, to expand bus service and build a 24-mile light rail system between Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The entire project, including buses and light rail, would cost $2.2 billion to build and $130 million annually to operate.

Asked whether the Greenlight referendum would factor into the Rays decision on where to build a new stadium, Silverman said: “This is the first step toward a regionwide transit system, and that transit system will benefit Rays fans no matter where we are in the region in the future. More importantly, that transit system will help Tampa Bay grow, and as Tampa Bay grows, so will the Rays.”

The Rays statement speaks for itself.  We are actually more interested in the Realtors endorsement especially because the Hillsborough County Commission seems incapable of understanding that proper transportation options actually help the real estate market. So take note.

On the other hand, Politifact had an item about whether the “BRT” service contemplated in Greenlight Pinellas would take up traffic lanes or not.  It is a complicated issue:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority would work with the Florida Department of Transportation, the county and local municipalities to see if other lanes or rights of way could be used for buses, said PSTA external affairs officer Bob Lasher. But the details of what those changes would look like aren’t done yet, because the initiative hasn’t been approved by voters.

“The actual stop-by-stop, turn-by-turn details won’t be known until after the engineering and environmental studies are done, which would be only if the measure passes, due to expense,” he said. “If we were to put out that kind of money before hand, and it failed, that would be a big loss and irresponsible of us.”

That explanation makes sense to us.  Why spend the money to engineer every route when you do not know if you are going to implement it?  On the other hand, the opposition of the plan is based on sound bites and emotion, so giving elaborate answers, even if reasonable, can be problematic.

Nevertheless, Politifact concludes:

So there’s no intention to take away traffic lanes beyond the two Greenlight Pinellas mentions, but there’s also no possible way to guarantee it won’t happen. The plan will be implemented with the input of many local municipalities and the state, which means any number of outcomes is possible.

Because of the ambiguity, Politifact says the claim that traffic lanes will not be removed for “BRT” is mostly false.  We think that may be overly negative because, as Politifact admits, there is no intention to take away the lanes.

The real problem is that any ambiguity in the plan, no matter how reasonable and necessary, makes it harder to explain in a campaign that promises to be long on simplistic rhetoric and short on substance.

Transportation – A Crack in the Cone of Silence

We saw something surprising in a Creative Loafing article on HART:

That led to what is often a frequent discussion at such meetings — the true meaning of what the agency is supposed to be all about.

“How are we going to get more riders? More ‘choice’ riders? How are we going to appeal to them? What are we doing with other government entities to stretch out dollars further?” asked Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman.

There has been considerable discussion inside the Transportation for Economic Development group (which includes county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities) on expanding HART to become the local agency that will oversee all transportation issues in the county. But Murman expressed concerns that the agency isn’t ready to step up just to continue to serve parts of the county that consider themselves underserved at the moment.

“I serve a lot of people in the county and they are begging for service,” she said, referring specifically to South County. “We have over half a million people coming into Hillsborough County by 2025. How are they going to get around? We’re not going to build any more roads, I can tell you that.”

No more roads? If there are going to be no more roads, how is all the sprawl that the County favors going to be handled?  Is the County going to actually deal with transit?  How are all those buses going to move on overcrowded roads?  What is the alternative to roads planned?

And then there was this:

That led John Melendez — selected by Governor Rick Scott back in 2012 to serve on the board — to say he really didn’t think it was that crucial for the agency to expand, saying if decreases in ridership were caused by an improvement in the economy, then there shouldn’t be any angst about growing.

But that statement was shot down by several other board members, like Mark Sharpe. The County Commissioner said that all studies indicate that Millennials (those born between 1982-2001) are extremely interested in the availability of multiple transportation options. “We need to be as aggressive as possible in increasing ridership,” he said.

So in one exchange we have crystalized the old way of thinking (is it FDOT’s plan for the Tampa Bay area?) that has led us to constantly be playing catch-up and an acknowledgement that at least one County Commissioner gets it.  Now, what is going to be done about it?

We can’t wait (really, we can’t; too much time has been wasted) for the answers.

Economy – Something Interesting in the Housing Market

There was a Business Journal report on house flipping this week that had something very interesting.

Tampa Bay’s percentage of home sales that were flips — where a house is bought and sold within six months — is on the decline. In Q1 of 2014, 4.9 percent of home sales were flips, compared to 9 percent in the same quarter last year, said a survey by RealtyTrac. That compared to a 3.7 percent rate of flipped sales nationally.

A number that should be particularly discouraging to Tampa Bay flippers is that their average purchase price in Q1 was $141,650, while the sale price was $125,394, showing an 11 percent loss — second only to Indianapolis (12 percent) in the Top 50 U.S. markets.

The Bay area’s red ink ran against the national trend that saw flipping down, but profits up, especially in other Florida markets: 24 percent return on investment in Jacksonville; 40 percent in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale; 37 percent in Orlando-Kissimmee.

So how is this explained?

Setting aside poor business decisions, the interesting thing to note is depreciation in house values (and we are not even talking about Orlando’s numbers.)  Investors are pulling back, and house prices not rising. Those who think the policies of the past (and, sadly, the present) will work should take note.

In A Park Down by The River – Cont.

This week, the City had a public meeting regarding Riverfront Park.  We are not sure what effect it will have, but the Times columnist who, shall we say, is unusually reticent to say anything less than fully supportive about the Mayor, tells us this, which is probably the real plan:

Of course the mayor sees the park opening up to the waterfront. (A river really does run through it.) Splash fountains? A dog park? This much is certain: The strange grassy mounds — some landscaping trend from the ’60s? — are likely out, and no objections are expected.

Due to the aforementioned reticence, we knew the columnist would not object, but we wonder who “expects no objections” (though it is questionable if any objections would be considered, anyway).  Yet tellingly, the Times’ editorial on the subject had this picture:

From the Times – click on picture for article

which is, of course, taken from the top of the largest mound because, as is obvious to anyone who cares to look and experience, the best view in the park is from the top of the mound where it provides a vertical element that is very rare in Tampa. And imagine the view without that poorly placed tree line.

The fact remains that anyone who has taken a kid to the park (or been a kid in the park) knows that they love the vertical element. They know it gives nice views.  They know it makes the park different from all other parks in the area. Whether it is the specific mound or an alteration thereof, the vertical element should stay.

So let us say it clearly – while we like many of the ideas put forward for the park, on the vertical element, we object.

Branding – What Is It?

The Business Journal had an item on the troublesome issue of branding the Tampa Bay area:

“We’re prettier than them.”

That was the impromptu catch phrase for Bay area economic development posited by Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano. He came up with it during a luncheon roundtable on the topic presented by the Tampa Bay Business Journal at Eddie V’s in Tampa. The event brought together 11 people from economic development and business communities, along with Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe. Near session’s end, the conversation turned to the thorny issue of branding Tampa Bay.

Lopano was saying, in effect, that a unified message to the wider world should incorporate a lot of things, but the Bay area’s physical beauty and temperate weather should not be overlooked in the chase for technology workers, corporate headquarters, startups and all the other hot-button issues in economic development. 

While we agree with the Airport Director that the weather and natural beauty of the area should not be ignored, we have to say that it is anywhere near sufficient.  Other areas are attractive and have good weather as well. (See San Diego) Indeed:

There was general agreement that the Bay area, marketed for so many decades as a retirement mecca and tourist destination, has a lot of work to do in terms of freshening up its identity.

If you are marketing the area as a retirement area and tourist destination, what are you using if not the natural beauty and weather?  For tourism, which helps airline traffic, it is enough. (As long as it is not done like these.)  For everything else, it isn’t.

At least there was acknowledgement that economic development branding should not be too specialized:

“Maybe we’re the best at being diverse?” Mike Meidel, chairman of Pinellas Economic Development weighed in. “We’ve weathered the bad times reasonably well, maybe because what we do is so diversified.”

Rick Homans, his counterpart at Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, added, “If you’re a Top 20 market, you don’t really need to specialize. It should be broad-based.”

We agree, though it still does not answer the key question.

As we have said before, the problem with branding this area is that, as an area, we do not know what we are or what we really want to be.  Until we do, “warm, sunny and with beaches” is probably the best we can hope for.

Downtown – Free-ish WiFi

So WiFi is coming to downtown Tampa:

It’s been more than a year since Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he wanted to bring free, public Wi-Fi service to the Riverwalk, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and other public spaces in downtown Tampa.

On Tuesday, Buckhorn said it will be there by the end of 2014.

Expanding wireless access has been a priority for the mayor, who wants to attract tech-savvy young professionals to Tampa.

“We know that these millennials could just as easily be writing code here in Curtis Hixon park as in Mumbai,” Buckhorn said at a news conference. “For us to be competitive, for us to be a place that they want to be a part of, we had to create an environment that would work for them.”

We are not sure the comparison should be with Mumbai, but we’ll just chalk that up to an IIFA hangover.  And we are not sure people will be coding in the park, but they might. In any event, having free WiFi downtown is good.  So what are the details?

Once an estimated 50 to 100 Wi-Fi access points are installed and activated around the park, the Bright House service will provide free Wi-Fi for up to two hours per day or 1 gigabyte per month. After that, non-Bright House customers can buy additional service. Bright House says its existing high-speed data customers will have full-time, full-speed access at no extra charge.

The service will not have advertisements — “there will be no popups on it,” Buckhorn said — and will allow any Wi-Fi-enabled laptop computer, tablet or smartphone to connect to the Internet. It will cover all of the Riverwalk, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Water Works Park and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.

Once the city finishes its redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in 18 months to two years, the service will be available there, too.

First, the coverage is good.  However, it is not really free for everyone.  Of course, it is fine for the average person who wants WiFi for their phone or someone who wants to work outside for a few hours on a nice day while downtown, and that is good.  (It really is not going to get non-Bright House customers coding in the park, and, really, that is ok.)

It is not what we would ultimately want to see, but it is certainly better than not having anything.  Now, just make sure the connection is strong.

Transportation – Pasco East-West Road

It appears that the private proposal for an east-west road in Pasco is probably dead.

“We’re at a point where I don’t think the project looks very promising,” Prasad told The Tampa Tribune.

The Florida Department of Transportation has been in negotiations since January with a consortium headed by the Spanish construction company OHL to build and operate an elevated toll road over State Road 54. If approved, it would be the state’s first private toll road and would have linked U.S. 19 and U.S. 301.

Prasad said he met last Thursday with OHL representatives, who presented various options for the road in an effort to respond to overwhelming public opposition to the project. That’s when the firm said it could not build the project without taxpayer dollars.

“We asked them to look at different scenarios, and each scenario it looks like the state’s going to have to do something,” Prasad said. “If that’s the case, then it’s probably better to hit the reset button.”

We are not particularly concerned with whether this plan worked or not.  If a private company wants state money, then it probably should die.

The real problem is that there is still a great need for an east-west road north of the bay, and that need is not going away.  Sadly, especially with people reacting like this, it will probably be another 30 years before anything gets done.

Coming Out Watch, Sort of

This week’s coming out watch is not exactly coming out, but so be it.

For well over a decade, Ybor City has been celebrated in songs by The Hold Steady.

The Brooklyn-based group’s original numbers such as “Slapped Actress,” “Stay Positive” and the band’s anthem “Killer Parties” salute Ybor’s late-night club scene.

The band’s “Most People Are DJs” begins with “Well, hold steady, Ybor City. You’re up to your neck in the sweat and wet confetti. If you want to get a little bit light in the heady. It’s gonna have to get a little bit heavy.”

Cool but strange because the band does not seem to have a connection to Tampa.

Performing since 2000, The Hold Steady is often hailed as the ultimate alcohol-fueled, hard-rocking bar band. Hold Steady’s Finn says he wrote about Ybor City long before the band played Tampa. “I had friends from down in Tampa who talked about going to punk rock shows in Ybor back in the ’80s,” Finn recalled in a telephone interview.

“I’ve always written a lot of real geographic references into my songs; and I just like saying ‘Ybor City’ and spelling it,” he says. “It was somewhere I had never been so it was mysterious and romantic.”

“And then we finally went there in 2006 and came back a few times,” he adds. The group has played the Orpheum, The Ritz and Czar.

Oh, just another story of brain drain. Yay.

List of the Week

This week’s list goes back to the survey report in the first item today and is the list of top metro areas in the United States most interest them as a potential location to live (pg 35 of the pdf).  There are actually three lists – one for Millennials, one for active Boomers, and overall.

First, the Millennials: first is NYC, followed by LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Portland (OR), DC, and a tie between Atlanta and Charlotte.

For active Boomers, first is San Diego, followed by Boston, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Phoenix, Portland (OR), Austin, New York, and Orlando.

Finally, the overall list: first is San Diego, followed by NYC, Boston, Denver / Boulder, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, LA, Portland (OR), DC, Austin, Phoenix, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Miami.

The only surprise is that Dallas and Houston are not on the lists.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2014 9:38 AM

    I don’t oppose mass transit or roads, but I disagree with the funding mechanism for both.

  2. B. Wills permalink
    May 9, 2014 9:42 AM

    “Prettier than them? Really?

    Besides Bayshore Boulevard, and the airport area, most of Tampa looks borderline third-world:

    * Rough streets pocked with potholes and sloppy patches upon patches patches.
    * Newly-paved roads torn up a few months later for utility work instead of it being done before repaving
    * No curbs and open storm drainage ditches
    * Sidewalks, (where they exist) are close to traffic on high-speed roads and set back from traffic in residential areas (should be exactly opposite).
    * Unused phone and cable utility wires left dangling in the wind (and in some cases overhanging sidewalks at eye-level). Verizon and BrightHouse should be fined for this.
    * Business that take no pride in their exterior appearance (landscaping, maintenance, etc.)
    * No architectural or design standards except for Ybor City and Hyde Park.
    * No long-term plans to put utility wires underground.
    * Bike lanes (where they exist) do not have physical barriers to separate them from traffic lanes.
    * No grid of major north/south and east/west arterial roads which unburdens secondary roads and alleviates congestion.

    I could go on and on.

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