The vision for the future is grand, but the free rides start now.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority hosted a ribbon cutting Friday at Dick Greco Plaza downtown to mark what it calls a "New Era of Transit" for the TECO Line Streetcar System.
Among those attending the ribbon-cutting were Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, former Mayor Dick Greco and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor .
The vintage cars serving downtown, the Channel District and Ybor City now run along 2.7 miles of track with 11 stops, connecting people to work, events, restaurants, sporting events, activities and entertainment.
But the streetcar will also play a role "in the broader transportation network of Tampa," said HART's interim chief executive Jeff Seward.
The line figures in long-range plans for a transit system linking the University of South Florida, downtown and Westshore. Money raised in a proposed countywide sales tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot would help pay for the work.
The Friday ceremony also marked the start this week of free rides and expanded service aboard the trolley, made possible by a $2.7 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.
The cars will run every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Previously, the fare was $2.50. The changes give rise to a new streetcar motto, as well: "Free. Fun. Frequent. Totally Tampa!"