New support emerging for mass transit in Tampa area
Thursday’s town hall meeting hosted by a fledgling group of young professionals provided hints the area’s political landscape may be evolving and will have a renewed focus on transportation issues.
Whether there’s sufficient consensus among Emerge Tampa Bay’s age demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds to influence politics in the near future remains to be determined. But if exchanges from Thursday night are any indication, it appeared a new dynamic in favor of mass transit may be developing.
Last week, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said it’s unlikely the county will hold a sales tax referendum on transit initiatives next year. At Thursday’s town hall meeting, County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the county first needs to identify where economic development is most likely to occur.
That’s when a member of Emerge Tampa Bay politely set the tone, pointing out the county’s employment centers are well defined.
“I am already 25,” said Cordell Chavis, a Brandon resident and Citigroup employee. “When is it going to happen?” he asked about transit improvements.
Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who along with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn endorsed light rail at the town hall meeting, said the reason for a rail impasse is that elected officials fear any sort of new tax. The fourth elected official at Thursday’s meeting, Republican State Rep. James Grant, said his view on whether light rail would be worthwhile locally depends on the clarity of a plan.
Montelione also challenged the potential impact of HART’s new MetroRapid bus route between downtown and the northeast suburbs. Some bus advocates say the route could generate additional ridership interest and pave the way for enhanced transit such as rail.
“It’s not Bus Rapid Transit. It’s Bus Rapid Transit Lite,” she said, referring to HART’s route that operates on city streets rather than designated bus corridors that a handful of U.S. cities use for fast bus service.
Emerge Tampa Bay coordinator Kelsey Frouge called the Town Hall meeting a success, drawing a larger audience than the group’s first town hall meeting earlier this year.
“This is just the beginning,” said Frouge, a former Tallahassee resident who works for the Hill+Knowlton Strategies.