TAMPA - The Tampa Historic Streetcar board said Wednesday it would seek financial support from the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council as the system's endowment funds will be used up in fiscal 2014.
The rationale for seeking supplemental funding from tourism sources is that the streetcar is less of a transportation mode than a visitors industry amenity, said streetcar board member Karen Jaroch, who also sits on the county's transit board.
Visitors groups promote the streetcar between downtown Tampa and Ybor City to recruit conferences and tourists, board members pointed out,
In June, 8,043 streetcar passengers were convention attendees riding free during the first month of a new promotional strategy offering the trips for conference attendees,
"We can't continue to operate this way," Jaroch said about the non-profit streetcar's declining budget and resultant declines in service. "We need to find another funding source."
The Tourist Development Council, with both elected officials and private sector representatives on its board, oversees bed tax collections and disbursements, including those supporting Visit Tampa bay, the county's visitors bureau.
Streetcar board members plan to meet with members of both groups and the Tampa Downtown Partnership to formulate a plan to enhance the streetcar budget.
The fiscal 2014 proposed streetcar budget to be approved in September is just less than $2 million.
During peak years, the streetcar system budget for system that began operation in 2002 was about $2.5 million.
But that's been in decline despite drawing down money from an endowment fund that originated with $5 million obligated for the defunct downtown People mover that served Harbour Island.
The streetcar endowment was expected to gradually decline to $1.1 million in 2025, but it's been depleted.
Numerous factors, including the investment market decline in 2008, the lack of significant endowment contributions for station and car naming rights, a $400,000-plus annual insurance premium to cover a streetcar-CSX rail crossing in Ybor City. and lower special assessment revenue than expected from the economic downturn depleted the fund, which has been used to cover streetcar operations.
"We need revenue to sustain operations," streetcar board member Michael English, a Tampa architect." "We have cut back headways (length of time between runs) and hours of operation to where local people are not willing to ride."
Streetcar ridership in May was 20,419, a 7.5 percent decline from May 2012.