As I mentioned in my last post, many transit districts are having to re-evaluate their current levels of service, as well as future plans, based on the levels of funding that are available to them. I also mentioned that in the case with HART in Tampa, they currently must rely on property taxes to fund a large chunk of its transit operations, a source that has been dwindling during the past several years. Now there is word that HART will face a very dire dilemma next year if no new funding sources are found.
What exactly is that dilemma you ask? It’s HART’s aging bus fleet. For years, HART has been aiming to add at least 200 buses to its existing 200-bus fleet to be able to expand transit service. Unfortunately, current funding levels don’t allow HART to do that. In fact, HART has been losing buses since 2012, when its aging 1999 series fleet was retired without funding available for a replacement fleet. This has left HART with roughly 187 buses, with few avenues available to stabilize that number during the course of the next five years.
This is just one of many reasons that a sales tax option must be considered by Hillsborough County to fund transit improvements. Without any new sources of funding, HART will be facing a significant shortfall during the next five years, which will inevitably lead to drastic service cuts and another across-the-board fare hike, more significant than past fare increases.
With Pinellas County gearing up for a sales tax referendum vote in 2014, that would allow for transit improvements, transit talk in Hillsborough County has slowly re-kindled. However, there are still many tea party activists who are still hoping to shut down both efforts. The key is to have the county present a proposal that all sides would agree to, even if it took multiple attempts to present such plans for a vote. Many cities like Phoenix, Arizona have had to do just that in order to get a sales tax referendum through that had largely universal voter support.
Another key is to convey the facts about public transit to the public and let them know just how vital it is to the entire area. This was something that was not properly done during the 2010 attempt and many tea party activist groups ended up pouncing on the opportunity to attack supporters with ads that may have been untrue. Advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay is hoping to change that by helping to build public support for transit improvements on a grass-roots level. Other non-profit groups and business leaders have also stepped forward to voice their support for transit improvements.
With all of this said, and I know that I’m late on saying this (but better late than never), there will be a Hillsborough County Commission meeting tomorrow, Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 9:00am at the County Center in Downtown Tampa. Need an incentive to go? How about breakfast, hosted by Connect Tampa Bay? You don’t have to speak while at the meeting, but showing up against the opposition will really show county commissioners that we’re serious about re-starting the discussion on transit improvements.