After some of the usual Tallahassee two-step, the Legislature passed the Tampa Bay Transit Authority bill and last week the Governor signed it. The inspiration for the Transit Authority bill was the proposal spearheaded last year by Pinellas County Commission Chair, Janet Long. We have all watched the region struggle to address the transportation gridlock as referendums have failed and plans have faltered. It seemed that each new transportation initiative was simply a different platform to fight the last referendum battle. Chairwoman Long’s goal was to change the dynamics of the Tampa Bay transportation narrative and avoid the doomed approach of organizing to fight the last war.
The new bill is attempting to change the traditional Tampa Bay transportation narrative by limiting the organizational scope and increasing geographic focus. Instead of attempting to manage all aspects of transportation, the new TBARTA will limit its scope to transit. Rather than focusing on a ten county region with a myriad of transportation challenges, TBARTA will concentrate on the core counties with similar problems.
The implementation of these concepts aren’t perfectly crafted in the new legislation. It can be argued that a more focused transit start would have limited the service to Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas with Manatee as the next expansion area. Adding Manatee and Hernando Counties now will complicate the mission but is dramatically better than planning for and managing ten counties.
The law has been changed but there are two keys to changing the narrative. First, envisioning and articulating a transit system that addresses regional goals and second, creating an organization that can reach those goals while ensuring that all the local initiatives work and work toward the regional goals. Think of it as a system that is operating like a fully functioning hand with all of the attached fingers working in unison so it can hold the region together. The new TBARTA and executive leadership will have to convince the public that it can conceive and embrace the future and still execute the present. Putting such a Board and executive team together will itself require a thoughtfulness that will evoke public confidence. The bottom line is that TBARTA must become an organization that brings fresh thinking to transit in Tampa Bay and does not just become a different platform to fight over the last referendums.
By Tony Collins and Jim Ley, June 2017