PTC – On and On
In all honesty, there are some issues that just drag on and on and writing about them become quite tedious. One of those is the PTC and its treatment of ride-sharing companies. This week two things happened – neither of which was surprising. First,
Uber had challenged nine citations issued by the county’s Public Transportation Commission between July 7 and Aug. 28. The drivers were charged with violating PTC rules by failing to obtain permits to provide a taxi service and public vehicle drivers’ licenses.
Though Uber drivers use their own private vehicles, they were acting as taxi drivers when they picked up customers, More said. Also, More said the smart phones the Uber drivers used to calculate distance and fares were equivalent to a taxi meter.
“Although the make and/or model of the vehicles involved in these citations were not actual taxicabs, they were functioning in the same capacity, in that they were providing a ride, for hire with a device mounted in the front of the vehicle that displayed a fare,” More wrote.
Remember that last bit about inspectors not appearing. Then there was this:
In her findings, More made it clear she was not ruling on the larger questions of whether the PTC’s rules or definitions apply to Uber, only that the agency had reason to believe Uber violated those rules in the five cases.
If you uphold the fine and find that the service is similar to taxis, then it would seem logical to conclude that you have decided that the PTC’s rules and definitions do apply to Uber. But, anyway.
The second thing that happened was a confab about transportation.
A panel of local leaders, including politicians and the heads of bus and expressway authorities, gushed Wednesday about the positive aspects of having ride-share companies operate in Tampa Bay — despite fervent pushback from the Hillsborough County agency that regulates for-hire vehicles.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and state Sen. Jeff Brandes said it is not a matter of whether companies such as Uber and Lyft will be able to operate here with support from local governments, but when.
“We need to offer what most business leaders and tourists want, which are these types of options,” said Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who faces re-election this November. “We’ll work through all these other issues, both the insurance issues and the background check issues. …I’m 100 percent confident that we can find a reasonable solution to those issues.”
Don’t forget the ridiculous minimum pricing. Maybe the legislature should ban that once and for all.
How did the PTC respond?
“I think there’s still some hurdles to get over, and I don’t think it should be taken so lightly,” Cockream said. “I also think elected officials should uphold the laws of this country, regardless of how they feel about them. If laws need to be changed, there’s a civil and democratic process to that.”
Predictably. First, as we have said numerous times – the PTC makes the rules. They cannot say they are powerless before rules. Second, as a former law enforcement officer, he surely knows there is such a thing a prosecutorial discretion. Third, his own inspectors did not show up to the hearings to enforce the rules.
Just change the stupid rules or dissolve the PTC.
USF Med School – The Push Begins
Last week we discussed the proposal for putting USF Med School in downtown (see “Of Downtown, Rays, Med Schools, and Money”) and concluded:
Again, if USF med school had started downtown, it would likely have a cluster now and would be a good thing, but it is not clear at all that moving it now would make sense. And, while we are not completely opposed, the case for moving it has not been made.
Over the weekend, it became clear that this is more than just an idea floated when the Tribune ran an article entitled “Vinik open to med school in downtown Tampa.” So did the article make the case?
A push to bring the University of South Florida medical school to downtown Tampa has received a shot in the arm, with key landowner Jeff Vinik saying he will support the school’s leaders as they explore the concept.
While tactfully avoiding specifics, a statement from Vinik’s companies nonetheless suggests that the Tampa Bay Lightning owner is listening as Mayor Bob Buckhorn, downtown’s biggest cheerleader, touts the potential move as a “game changer” for the city.
“We have great respect for the mayor and his leadership,” the statement from Vinik’s companies said. “We understand the value that an increased USF presence could have for our downtown and also understand how an urban school could benefit the University.
Setting aside that “game changer” may be the most overused phrase of the decade (though if the full Lightning owner property is really developed in an urban way with or without a med school, that would definitely change downtown considerably), we completely get that someone who owns a lot of land downtown would favor having the USF Med School downtown, especially if:
Buckhorn and Ayers both touted a high-profile Vinik tract as a potential site. Vinik owns a pair of empty lots just north of the arena and had filed last month to rezone them for a major office structure. But that request was pulled this month.
We have nothing against a business person promoting their location for development. That is what business people do. We would expect nothing else. Why wouldn’t he be in favor of it? (Though we do not think the success of a good development project in basically half of downtown is dependent on the USF Med School.)
That being said, it is still not clear that putting the USF Med School in the middle of what is supposed to be “Tampa Live” or some other kind of entertainment district makes sense for the school. And there are other questions: does it make sense to put the Med School right near an arena? Does that help students study? Will students who are paying med school tuition and getting in debt really fork over for downtown rents? Those are questions that need to be answered. And how would this all work?
Frank Morsani, a longtime auto dealer who donated $20 million to the medical school that bears his name, said he supports a downtown center. He said the campus center could serve those starting out their medical training, with those students shifting downtown as they focused on clinical practice and duties at Tampa General Hospital, USF’s teaching hospital.
“It would be an asset to the city and to Tampa General Hospital and give a real presence to our city,” Morsani said. “There are all kinds of models across the country. … I think it is feasible. I certainly am supportive of that, and I think it could happen.”
First, we applaud him for his generous donation. And yes, that idea is feasible, but the question is if it is optimal for the med school and related institutions. Is it optimal to have a bifurcated medical school complex? There are no patients downtown, they are at TGH or near the main campus. Does the downtown location really help that? If patients are the key shouldn’t that part of the school be near a TGH facility – either the hospital or the outpatient facility that is to go on Kennedy? Those are also questions that need to be answered.
So what does USF say?
Documents provided to the state university system’s board of governors last week show that USF trustees are requesting $17 million next year, $20 million in 2016-17 and an additional $20 million the year after that for the Morsani school.
The $57 million total is listed under “projects for review,” and the board of governors will consider those requests, among nearly $900 million in legislative budget requests from the state’s 12 public universities, on Oct. 8. No votes will be taken at that meeting.
So USF looks noncommittal. Though this was odd:
While Genshaft said USF Health needs to grow on campus, according to a recent article in the Tampa Tribune, USF is considering building a new building for the Morsani College of Medicine and is considering construction either downtown or on-campus, which some consider especially with new construction starting on the USF Health Heart Institute.
She said USF remains committed to continuing close work with the Hayley Veterans Hospital, the Moffitt Cancer and Reasearch [sic] Institute, the Florida Hospital and Shriners Hospitals for Children “who all value our close proximity.”
“The Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare will absolutely continue to be a facility where thousands of patients receive the highest quality care each year,” she said. “…With more than 450 doctors in the USF Physicians Group and the continuing demand for high quality health care all across our community, there is room for us to grow without taking away from what currently exists.”
While it may be that the decision has not been made yet, that comment could easily be a preamble to a move.
— Some Actual Examples
Still, the actual case for having the Med School move downtown now still has not been made. So, we decided to find some examples of downtown medical schools to see if their situation is comparable and can shed some light on the issue.
One similar sounding project is the University of Arizona Medical School in downtown Phoenix, which began as a satellite for the main school (in Tucson) serving 3rd and 4th year students, then grew into a full school. That example is worth examining, though there are at least two factors that make it different: 1) it is basically a new school because the main campus is in Tucson and so affiliated institutions in Phoenix will be new and not far from the med school campus and 2) Phoenix is the capital and main city in Arizona, which gives it much more pull for state money and investment.
Another example is in Buffalo, where SUNY Buffalo is building a downtown med school. It is still under construction, so it is hard to assess. One thing that is known is that it is adjacent to a hospital. (see here and here)
And both campuses are within a few blocks of rail transit.
So it seems neither example is really comparable. (Nor is the Tulane/LSU complex in New Orleans which has two medical schools and hospitals basically right next to each other)
So, yes, there are ideas, but, as we said, are they optimal for the medical school? Do they help develop a medical cluster and the bio med industry in the area? Do they help the medical students? Maybe, and maybe not. No one can really say because there has not been anything specific proposed publicly and no real case made or discussion had.
I would not be the first time that a major decision was made like that in Tampa.
— Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida
It is worth noting here something going on in Orlando that may give some context to the push to move the med school.
University of Central Florida President John Hitt made it official Tuesday, announcing to community and business leaders that UCF will push to build a campus in downtown Orlando that could ultimately cost as much as $200 million.
UCF has been studying the idea of a downtown campus at the Creative Village — where the city’s old NBA arena used to sit — since visiting Arizona State University’s campus in downtown Phoenix in January.
Hitt said the university expects to seek $50 million to $60 million in state money during the Legislature’s upcoming spring session. That would fund, in part, the campus’s first building: a joint-use facility for UCF and Valencia College.
UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy and Center for Emerging Media already are at the Creative Village downtown, and other tech-focused programs would be a natural fit there, too, Hitt said.
(You can check the ASU downtown campus website here) For those who do not know, Creative Village is a project to develop a relatively large area in Orlando as an urban, tech hub cluster. / There are a few differences between the UCF idea and the USF idea. First, the UCF idea does not really move away from a large cluster of related institutions and business. (which is a major concern with USF). Second, there was already the Creative Village concept before the idea of moving parts of UCF. Third, Creative Village was planned with higher education in mind and to take advantage of it. Finally, the raw numbers for UCF are bigger. (Which goes to the question of what is the live-work-play plan around UT) And note that the relatively newly built UCF medical school is in the emerging Lake Nona Medical City biomed cluster, which is not really built how we would do it, but that is what is there. And even UF has a presence there.
One thing that is similar:
It really is an overused phrase.
Port – More on Masterplanning
There was recently news about the Port’s developing master plan:
Port officials are taking the next step toward developing vacant land along Channelside Drive, setting up meetings with stakeholders including the City of Tampa, nearby landowners and businessman Jeff Vinik, among others.
They plan to coordinate the Channelside Master Plan with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Vinik, who is moving ahead with development plans of his own, now that he holds the leases for the Channelside Bayside Plaza.
Earlier this year port officials and their consultant spoke of ways they could use vacant port-owned property other than for maritime uses. Years ago, when the cruise ship business was going strong, growing that industry was a priority. Now, not so much, due to the limitations of the Sunshine Skyway. The bridge isn’t tall enough to accommodate newer, taller cruise ships. The focus now is more on building amenities around the residential structures in the area.
Ram Kancharla, vice president of planning and development for Port Tampa Bay said that while there has already been a lot of outreach and gathering of public comment on plans for the land, there is still much to do.
“We are still in the stages of formulating” the vision, he said. He and consultant Luis Ajamil of Bermello, Ajamil & Partners Inc. will meet with various entities over the next few months to fine tune some logistics, like parking, transportation issues and roadway improvements needed to accommodate the plan.
Kancharla said that preliminary ideas floated at a public meeting to enhance urban living in the area have gone over well with just about everyone. Those plans mention coffee shops, office buildings, grocery stores and other retail.
We are open to the idea of developing the waterfront, though that did not work so well the last time (see Channelside complex) and do we really need a waterfront grocery store? (and there already is a coffee shop in the middle of the Channel District so why plan more? If the market will support it, there is vacant retail space already.)
And, from the article and the plan, it seems that the Port is just giving up on the cruise business – even if it is just smaller cruise ships. If not, how can it really develop a master plan effectively without knowing exactly what is going to happen with the cruise business. If it is giving up on the cruise business (a quarter of its revenue), when was that decision made and by whom? Why didn’t the Port just say it was going to plan real estate development?
As we said when the announcement of the master plan process was made:
Well, at least the company has some experience. (see here) On the other hand, the Port has a poor track record in the Channel District (see Channelside fiasco and the horribly designed garage and its horrible addition). The real concern is that we get a canned plan presented as a fait accompli with much fanfare and hype and only cursory public input.
The other thing is that we have no idea what the goal of the plan is. There is a pretty good argument for leaving it as part of the port rather than developing real estate. (There is also the question of the long term future of the cruise business at the port – a discussion that disappeared almost as fast as it appeared. see here and here)
In all honesty, we go back and forth about what should happen to this land. What has not been done is a full public discussion about the benefits and liabilities of real estate development versus maritime functions (which actually should have started long before anyone was hired to create a master plan), nor is it likely. It is not the Tampa DNA.
Like the USF medical school downtown, it is not that what is being contemplated is necessarily wrong, but it is not necessarily right. The problem is that no one really knows, and there has been essentially no discussion.
Economic Development – Talking Trade
There was an article in the Tribune regarding attempts to develop trade in the Tampa Bay area. Because it really rehashes information that is already known, we are not going to go over it. We know people are working to develop trade. We know the airport is working for international flights. We know the Port has made some moves to trade more. One thing we did like was this:
“We are certainly investing on the infrastructure side to be in position to handle new growth,” said Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development for Port Tampa Bay. He referred to the two new gantry cranes the port is purchasing to better handle wider loads on new container ships traveling to and from the port. The $24 million cranes should be in place in about two years.
“Essentially, the key to our success is working with our partners,” Elliott said. The port is also focused on attracting manufacturing operations to the port, so they can ship quickly. And the new Interstate 4 connector road to Port Tampa Bay allows trucks from all over Florida and the south to more quickly and directly reach the port and get goods shipped out, he said.
Hopefully, it will actually work.
Coincidentally, there was an article in the Miami Herald about preparing for the expansion of the Panama Canal. Of course, it focused on Miami and preparations being made there, but it had some interesting points of more general application, including some by the former Port Director:
“You better be ready to handle these big ships because that is what’s coming,” said Alberto Alemán, former head of the Panama Canal Authority and now chief executive of ABCO Global, a logistics advisory company.
What will determine who is successful and who is not in the post-Panamax era, said Wainio, depends on simple demographics: “How many people you have, how much money they have to buy stuff and where they are.”
So the question is whether we are going to be winners, losers or somewhere in-between. How does our lack of capacity influence that? That is another discussion that needs to take place.
Downtown – Goings On
— Harbour Island
Just as an update, the Framework Group website indicates that HIKU, the apartment tower project for Harbour Island (as opposed to the Related project that has a parking issue) is set to begin construction in October. We shall see, but that would be nice. It is not a bad project.
For a few years now, there have been projects to light up downtown, either permanently (like the nice, if not original, lighting of the bridges) and temporarily. This week, the latest temporary lighting was announced.
Since it began in 2006, Lights on Tampa has seen the private investment of more than $2.5 million in permanent illuminated art. In 2012, the program worked with Tampa Electric to light up four downtown bridges before the Republican National Convention.
You can check the Times article (here) for the February 2015 line up. We just want to point out two. The first appears to be the permanent lights along the Riverwalk:
- Glowing River by Wannemacher Jensen Architects of St. Petersburg. This underwater installation will be installed along the new $8.8 million section of the Riverwalk that is expected to open in late December or January. A string of motion detectors along the Riverwalk will trigger changes in the color of the lights as pedestrians walk by, or, if they wish, double back to create their own patterns of light. The underwater lights also are expected to attract fish and other aquatic life.
While everyone in the rendering looks very festive, we hope the actual display is better than the rendering, which looks a bit of a mess. On the other hand, because the colors are supposed to change, it may be that a snapshot rendering does not really do it justice. We shall see.
We also want to note this one:
- Sky Striker by Traction Architecture of Tampa. The installation is aimed at turning Rivergate Tower, also known as the “Beer Can Building,” into a larger-than-life carnival game. An old-fashioned “high striker” machine will be set up in Kiley Garden at the foot of the tower, but when contestants use a mallet to test their strength, rings of colored light will race up the outside of the 31-story tower to display the power of their strike.
If it is anything like the rendering, we definitely think it rates two thumbs up.
Transportation – A Discussion of Toll Roads
There was a very interesting article in the Times (and other state papers) about FDOT’s toll road – and variable rate express toll lane – policy. Oddly, it is the first article we have really seen that in any way tries to look critically at that policy to ask if it makes sense and why does it exist. We are not going to go over the whole thing (you can read it here) but we are going to point out a few things.
There’s little debate that these toll lanes, also called express lanes or managed lanes, make commutes quicker for those willing to pay as much as $10 to use them. But there has been little debate about the need for the projects — not one resident will cast a vote on the lanes or the billions spent to create them.
Certainly if you charge people so much that most people do not want to use the express lanes (which is the policy), what is left will move faster. However, there is also a question of whether they penalize the vast majority of people trying to get around, especially in a state where median incomes are quite low.
That claim seems to have been supported by a state-issued report on toll lane drivers, which found that 87 percent of motorists who use the lanes most frequently have an annual household income of more than $76,000. Of those, the people who use the lanes most frequently have household incomes of at least $150,000, three times the median household income in Florida. The least frequent user are the poor, those whose household income is less than $25,000, who account for 4 percent of toll lane drivers.
Poole disputes the idea that the toll lanes become Lexus lanes and says the average cars driven by these drivers are affordable — Toyotas, Hondas, and Chevys. He says the lanes give all drivers a chance to get somewhere when they’re in a hurry.
Well, if there are Toyotas and Hondas that settles it, regardless of the State’s own reports. In any event,
Prasad says toll lanes effectively create a free-market highway system, where only those who use them have to pay for them. “It’s about trying to efficiently move traffic,” Prasad said. “It’s about how we use existing lanes most efficiently.”
Well, move some traffic, at least. And what about this “free market” thing? While you can find a number of definitions of “free market,” this one seems about on point:
Where buyers and sellers can make the deals they wish to make without any interference, except by the forces of demand and supply. A stockmarket comes closest to this ideal. See also market economy and open market.
And Cato tells us:
Free Markets. To survive and to flourish, individuals need to engage in economic activity. The right to property entails the right to exchange property by mutual agreement. Free markets are the economic system of free individuals, and they are necessary to create wealth. Libertarians believe that people will be both freer and more prosperous if government intervention in people’s economic choices is minimized.
Heritage tells us this:
In an economically free society, each person controls the fruits of his or her own labor and initiative. Individuals are empowered—indeed, entitled—to pursue their dreams by means of their own free choice.
In an economically free society, individuals succeed or fail based on their individual effort and ability. The institutions of a free and open society do not discriminate either against or in favor of individuals based on their race, ethnic background, gender, class, family connections, or any other factor unrelated to individual merit. Government decision-making is characterized by openness, and the bright light of transparency, illuminating the shadows where discrimination might flourish, guarantees equal opportunity for all.
So the question is, how many private highways are there in Florida? Can people just file on sunbiz.org and start building a highway? Can they just charge what they want? Do they have to ask FDOT for permission?
The fact is that there is no free market in our highway system. The state owns all the means of production – and even if someone built a private highway, the state would have control over all aspects of the project. The state restricts entry into its monopoly, and, right now, the state reaps the benefits of all the production. And, especially given its control of the supply and prices, if the state chooses to provide better service to those with more means, it is favoring one group over another and intervening in their decisions.
Now, don’t get us wrong, there are good reasons that highways should be regulated and mostly, if not completely, government owned. However, because they are government owned, they should provide everyone the same service at the same price. The fact that, if the variable rate express lanes do not price the average person, and even many above average earners, out of the market for the lanes, the concept will not work. Express lanes are not about free market, they are about exploiting a monopoly.
We have often said that we understand the utility of toll roads but think the tolls should be fixed and everyone should pay the same – everyone treated the same. (And FDOT should not be taking a free lane from the Howard Frankland.)
Transportation – the Driverless Car
There was an interesting editorial in the Tribune regarding driverless cars, which are often held out as the future of transportation, though no one really knows when or if that future will arrive. It lays out all the issues that arise from the concept of driverless cars – privacy issues, how much the driver must pay attention, will they actually bring safety (and does not mention the inevitable questions of legal liability for accidents, insurance, etc.) It concludes:
Higher levels of automotive technology, we expect, will require even better roads, better driver training and sharper drivers, exactly the opposite of what promoters of the autonomous vehicle anticipate.
Politicians should follow that lead. Stop promising how good it will be in five or 10 years. Tell us what you’re doing today to make the transportation network safer, more reliable, more affordable, and more humane.
Exactly. People used to always think that flying cars, and hydrogen cars, and all sorts of things were the future. If that future comes, it comes. However, for decades, local governments have waited for the future by doing little or nothing in the present. That is why we have a problem. We have to deal with what is.
In Cervisiam Spes Est
We did not have time to mention this last week, but there was news that Tampa is in the running for a USA Today poll on best beer towns. You can go to the website and vote. While we may be lacking a number of things, good local beer is not one of them (and the history actually goes back a while – predating most of the present companies), so go ahead and vote for Tampa. (The poll is here)
And if only we had good transit and walkable neighborhoods, we could all safely enjoy a little more.
Transportation – A Fine Idea
There was an interesting article in Citylabs.com that made a good point:
“There are way too many people working on transit who don’t actually ride transit,” he says. “If you’re going to be making decisions about transit, you really need to know what it’s actually like. Not what it’s like in theory, but what it’s actually like. ”
Indeed, especially the Board members. And we do not mean ride once; we mean really use it. If people are going to decide about something, they should have first-hand knowledge about it.
List of the Week I
Our list of the week is 247wallet.com’s list of best places to live in the US. The methodology is thus:
To determine the best cities to live in, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 550 cities that the U.S. Census Bureau reported as having more than 65,000 residents in 2012. Data were collected in seven major categories: crime, economy, education, housing, environment, leisure, and infrastructure.
Within each category, specific data points contributed to category ranking. For example, the economy category included median household income, cost of living, employment growth between 2011 and 2013, and the 2013 unemployment rate. We then used a formula to weight each category and convert each category rank to a meta rank ranging from 0-100. Crime, economy, education, and housing received full weights, while environment, leisure, and infrastructure received half weights.
Because of the weighting of the categories and because it covers full cities, the list is mostly suburbs of larger cities. Therefore, we will include the nearby big city in parentheses where applicable. Here are the top 20.
Coming in first was Newton, MA (Boston), followed by Bellevue, WA (Seattle), Mountain View, CA (San Jose/San Francisco); Pleasanton, CA (Oakland, but also near Livermore); Evanston, IL (Chicago); Irvine, CA (LA); Troy, MI (Detroit); Cary, NC (Raleigh); Flower Mound, TX (DFW); Johns Creek, GA (Atlanta); Boca Raton, FL; Carmel, IN (Indianapolis); New Rochelle, NY (NYC); Edmond, OK (OKC); Weston, FL (Ft. Lauderdale); Missouri City, TX (Houston); Richardson, TX (DFW); Charleston, SC; Naperville, IL (Chicago); Gilbert, AZ (Phoenix)