The Never-Ending Debate on Tampa Bay Light Rail

A proposed rapid-transit line running between Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Photo Credit: (St. Petersburg Times)
A proposed rapid-transit line running between Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
Photo Credit: Ricardo Ferro (St. Petersburg Times)

As the debate on the future of mass transit in the Tampa Bay area continues to intensify as the vote on Greenlight Pinellas looms closer, I thought it would be interesting to look back a bit on the history of this topic. Multiple times, politicians and community advocates in the region have tried to push for a rapid transit system linking the area, but each time those plans have failed.

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Greenlight Pinellas – Successes and Challenges

The Greenlight Pinellas Logo. Credit: Greenlight Pinellas/PSTA.
The Greenlight Pinellas Logo. Credit: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

For the past several months, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) has been engaged in educating the public about Greenlight Pinellas, a comprehensive public transit expansion plan that encompasses improved and expanded bus services, a redesigned bus network, and eventual implementation of passenger rail services. The plan is aimed at providing a dedicated funding source for PSTA, while reducing traffic congestion along Pinellas’ many clogged highways. This initiative is also the backbone of a voter referendum that has been placed on the November, 2014 ballot.

Currently, Pinellas County devotes a portion of property taxes to fund public transit services within the county. Since 2007, property tax revenue has dropped, causing PSTA to encounter a deficit. This in-turn, forced PSTA to slash service, even on some popular routes, in order to keep the agency stable during the recession. PSTA has also had to use its reserve funds to help maintain existing services, something that PSTA officials say they can’t do much longer. The aim of Greenlight Pinellas (which I’ll also refer to in this post as just Greenlight) is to move away from the property tax and instead use a sales tax to help fund transit improvements.

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