This post was originally written on June 3, 2012, but has since been updated to reflect recent happenings.
Whether you know me personally or not, you probably are wondering…how did I become so fascinated with public transportation? My love and passion for transportation as a whole goes back to my childhood. When I was in elementary school, I would draw out roadways and bridges (including lane striping, signs, buildings, and trees) whenever I had spare time. Every time I went on a road trip with my family, I would beg my parents to take a picture of a bridge or highway interchange for me. Riding along the Selmon Expressway in Tampa used to be such a huge ordeal for me, well…in the sense that I would cry if my parents did not go on it. This passion for transportation stretched into my high school and college years and would expand to include virtually all modes of getting around.
In 2006, my passion for transportation expanded into the public transit realm. When I began taking classes at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, I had no vehicle to drive. So I had to rely on the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (or HART) bus system to get me around. As time the semesters went by, I became more and more fascinated about how the HART system worked and all the types of buses and routes they operated. I also realized just how important public transit is to many people and thought that there had to be a way to improve the system.
When I traveled to Belgium and France in 2009, I got to ride a high speed rail line for the first time, and boy did I have a blast! Imagine zooming by a freeway going nearly 200mph? Yes, it can happen here in the US – but our political system has to greatly change in a way where automobile usage isn’t seen as the only method of moving people around places. During the same trip, I was able to ride through the Paris subway and was deeply fascinated with all of its trains and stations. So much so, that I began to develop my own fictional subway system based off the Paris system.
Even when I was able to get my own vehicle, the HART bus system continued to be a system by which I used regularly. When I transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa to complete my Bachelor’s Degree, I learned that the university had a Universal Pass Agreement with HART by which active students can use the HART system (with exception to express bus routes) at no additional cost to them. This arrangement, which continues today, allowed me to continue using the bus whenever I needed to, or really…whenever I wanted to. Even though I had the freedom to use a car to get to and from work and school, taking the bus to wherever I wanted to travel to allowed me to focus on other things – like catching up on school work on my laptop – instead of spending that time changing lanes, merging, and exiting.
In 2010, the Tampa/Hillsborough area had a chance to make its transportation system better through the Moving Hillsborough Forward initiative. However, that initiative – along with Greenlight Pinellas in 2014, and Go Hillsborough in 2015, failed at the hands of the voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas respectively. The Go Hillsborough initiative did not even make it to the ballot for 2016 – it was shut down by county commissioners who wanted to play politics instead of focusing on resolving a long-time transportation crisis.
During the past seven years alone, I’ve witnessed our transportation system getting progressively worse – and the game of “Politics As Usual” has only made this crisis even worse. Probably the single worst part of this crisis, is the fact that many of our elected officials are unwilling to set aside their differences and push back against special interests in order to make our transportation system better. At this point, they would rather piggyback off the state of Florida’s “solution”, which is Tampa Bay Express (or TBX) – the controversial variable toll lane project that aims to effectively toll our interstate highways while destroying our way of life.
Because we now live in a time where many things are being scaled back, I have to wonder if my area’s bus route will be cut due to limited funding. Furthermore, I have to wonder if our region will ever be able to face the reality that we have to band together to resolve our transportation problems. Because of the situation at hand, I’ve taken more of an advocacy role when it comes to transportation – including public transit. During the past two years, I began attending various public meetings to express my feelings on an array of transportation issues – whether it be changes to area bus routes, voter referendum initiatives, or to push back against TBX. I’ve also written several op-eds that have made it into local newspapers, and I support the various initiatives by the Sunshine Citizens group to not only put an end to the TBX monstrosity, but to also create a much better transportation plan for our region.
With all of this said, I hope that you will also consider getting involved in your area’s transportation matters. Having a community by which you can get around via multiple options – not just solely by driving – is vital to everyone who resides in that community. While I truly believe that the Tampa Bay region can become a multi-modal region, we have to work together as a region to make the changes that we need to make so that our transportation problems can be resolved once and for all.