SERVICE INTERRUPTION – TECOline Streetcar

UPDATE: Normal streetcar services will run on Monday.

Due to a power substation outage, the TECOline Streetcar is running services between the Whiting Street station in downtown Tampa and the Port Authority station in Channelside only. All services north of the Port Authority station have been suspended until further notice. In the meantime, HART is using two In-Town Trolley buses to provide bus bridge service into Ybor City.

TECOline Interruption - 2015-05-31

Please stay tuned to the TECOline Streetcar Facebook and Twitter pages for the latest.

Go Hillsborough – Part 5 – Working Together to Find Consensus

Go Hillsborough Part 5

It’s all come down to the wire. Now that we’ve identified the issues at hand when it comes to transportation, explored various opportunities to help improve Hillsborough County’s transportation network, and have made the tough choices in how we want to fund those improvements; it’s time for the public to gather around and work together to find consensus on viable community transportation plan. In this fifth installment of This is Go Hillsborough, I will cover what was discussed during the four final regional meetings and telephone town hall. I will then go over what is next in the process and what might come out of the final decision from county leaders. Finally, in my sixth and final installment of this series, I will recap everything that I’ve gone over in these five blog posts and how we can apply what we’ve learned towards building a viable community transportation plan.

Gather Around

Although I was unable to attend the final set of meetings due to my working schedule and long distance from the meeting venues, I was still able to get a basic idea of what transpired during these meetings. While the presentation boards made a return, showing everything that has transpired so far in the Go Hillsborough public outreach process, what was different this time around was that citizens were able to sit down with facilitators from the county and discuss what would the best way to move ahead with building a viable community transportation plan that can be supported by a majority of county residents. While we all understand that not everyone is going to like the final plan and how it will be funded, it is crucial that everyone is able to come to a common ground in determining the best course that the county should take in how they should carry out the plan.

There is emerging consensus on voting for a new revenue source

Credit: Go Hillsborough
Credit: Go Hillsborough

From what has come out of the Making Choices portion of the Go Hillsborough public outreach process, many citizens are willing to support either a gas tax or a sales tax to help fund transportation needs. If approved, these added funds would be able to go towards roadway maintenance, transit improvements, pedestrian/bike facilities, and perhaps some new roads.

There is emerging consensus supporting a Gas Tax (70% said yes) or Sales Tax (67% said yes) to fund our transportation needs, with maintenance as the largest allocation, followed by transit, roads, and bike/ped.

(From Go Hillsborough)

The percentages say it all, people want more transportation choices, and they are willing to put their tax dollars towards it.

Conclusions drawn from these meetings

So now that we have an idea of what these last few meetings were about, let’s take a look at what was concluded.

While some areas of Hillsborough experienced balanced agreements that would place transit, roads, and ped/bike improvements on equal footing, other areas of the county were much more polarized. For instance, parts of Central Tampa seemed focus on transit-only improvements such as light rail, while citizens in southern Hillsborough wanted roadway maintenance to be top priority before beginning to improve bus services.

What’s next?

Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consultant for the Go Hillsborough process and plan, will be compiling results from the public outreach sessions in the coming weeks and will present their findings to county leaders at a Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group meeting on June 11. County leaders from there will decide on what is the best course of action as far as putting forth specific projects and how to fund them. Along the way, there will be several more public workshops to allow citizens to give their voice in what they want in the final plan. When the final plan is completed and finalized, that plan will be presented to the public along with the final method by which the plan will be funded. If a countywide referendum is required to help fund the plan, specifics of the referendum will be announced at the appropriate time.

Prior to the June 11th meeting, I will be putting together a sixth and final blog post in the This is Go Hillsborough blog series called What We’ve Learned. This post will summarize the entire Go Hillsborough public outreach process and provide an outlook as to what is next in the broader process to build a viable community transportation plan.

Go Hillsborough Series 5B

Below is the estimated timeline for the Go Hillsborough process:

Credit: Go Hillsborough
Credit: Go Hillsborough

Memorial Day 2015 Holiday Transit Schedules

Memorial Day 2015 Banner 2

Memorial Day will be on Monday, May 25, 2015. Memorial Day gives us here in the United States a chance to reflect on the hardworking service of our military members, especially those who have lost their lives while fighting to protect our country’s freedoms.

Like most Federal Holidays, most transit agencies will be running limited services, with some agencies not running services at all. If you plan on using transit on Memorial Day, please plan your day accordingly…and in ahead, as customer service lines may be closed.

Transit Agency Service Status on Memorial Day

Please view the listing below to see what schedule your area’s transit district will be operating on Memorial Day:

Memorial Day 2015 FL

Additional Notes:

Some trolleybus routes (Pinellas County) may operate on a schedule other than a Sunday schedule. Please check the transit district’s website for details.

Memorial Day 2015 NY-IL

Additional Notes:

NYCMTA Website

NY/NJ PATH Website

Chicago CTA Website

PACE Website (Chicago area suburban bus services)

Metra Website (Chicago area Commuter Rail services)

Memorial Day 2015 VA

Additional Notes:

Virginia Beach WAVE Routes 31 and 32 will begin service on Friday, May 22, 2015.

Customer Service Hours

Unless otherwise noted, please see below for Customer Service Center hours and Telephone Customer Service hours:

Memorial Day 2015 Z-CustServ1 Memorial Day 2015 Z-CustServ2

Additional Notes:

Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) are available throughout the following locations for customer convenience.

  • HART (Tampa, FL): All major transit centers.
  • HRT (Norfolk/Hampton, VA): Along the Tide LRT corridor in Norfolk, as well as at HRT transit centers, the High St Ferry station, and at select (summer) locations along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

Normal Transit Service Resumption:

Regular weekday transit services will resume on Tuesday, May 26, 2015.

Disclaimer:

All information in this post have been compiled from the websites and social media channels of the respective transit agencies listed above. Ultimately, the agencies themselves are responsible for the accuracy of information that I’ve gathered. However, if you notice something that I’ve written that doesn’t match what the agency has posted (mistakes do happen, we’re all human), please let me know right away so that I can correct the information. Thank you.

Gandy Freeway St. Pete Update

IMG_20150513_191401_zpsmhbfwkbw
The damaged retaining wall along the future westbound through lanes of Gandy Blvd is now being dismantled. Credit: HARTride 2012.

Back in January of this year, a fiery tanker accident damaged a section of retaining wall (pictured above) that was being constructed in St. Petersburg, FL, placing its structural integrity into question. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is constructing the retaining wall as part of a decades-delayed freeway project along the median of Gandy Blvd. Because traffic will soon travel along the elevated roadway, the damaged section of wall must be replaced and the soil behind the wall strengthened, otherwise the wall could one day collapse…causing an even bigger mess.

Some commuters may wonder why its taken this long for the repair work to begin. Well, the reason is quite simple really…while work on other parts of the freeway has been allowed to continue, the insurance companies of the involved parties have had to determine who was at fault for the accident, which sometimes can take weeks to determine. Once the at-fault party was determined, that party’s insurance company had to communicate with FDOT as far as the severity of the damage to the roadway and how much the repairs could cost. After all the of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place so to speak, and the claim is resolved, then the funds are paid out so that the repairs can begin. The entire process of settling an insurance claim can often times be very time consuming (believe me…I know a few people who are auto insurance adjusters…it’s not fun at all).

Because of the damage, the entire freeway project has likely been set back somewhat. Hopefully though, the new roadway can still open sometime in 2017. Once it does open, several Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus routes will be able to flow more smoothly…along with the rest of the traffic in the area.

BIG NIGHT TONIGHT in Virginia Beach

The existing Tide LRT Line in Norfolk, VA travels from the Eastern Virginia Medical Center to Newtown Rd. Two studies are currently in progress to extend both termini. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
Will the Virginia Beach City County select The Tide extension to Town Center as the “Locally Preferred Alternative”? Or will it be Oceanfront? That decision will be made tonight. – Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

It all comes down to this…

Tonight, the Virginia Beach City Council is expected to select the “Locally Preferred Alternative” (or LPA) for the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study. The council is also slated to ratify next year’s city budget at tonight’s meeting, which currently includes $20 million dollars for the light rail extension plan.

So far, most of the council seems to be supportive of Mayor Will Sessoms’ proposed budget changes, which also includes a four percent increase for city workers and teachers. Transit advocates and supporters have been fighting hard to make sure that the council moves in a direction that will allow light rail to be extended into Virginia Beach. On the line right now is a state-proposed deal that would have them pay for roughly half the cost of extending The Tide, which currently terminates at the Virginia Beach/Norfolk city limits, to Town Center. The city would be responsible for taking up the remainder of the costs.

Many rail haters meanwhile have been chastising the council, claiming that the light rail extension is part of the reason for a planned tax hike that is to take effect in 2016 and that money can be better spent elsewhere. Many Tea Party activists and insiders have been clamoring that Bus Rapid Transit is a far cheaper and economical alternative to light rail, and that the council should either go that route, or not build anything at all.

Tonight’s meeting begins at 6PM at the Virginia Beach City Council Chambers, 2401 Courthouse Drive, Virginia Beach, Virginia, 23456.

You can view tonight’s agenda through the city council’s website.

Go Hillsborough – Part 4 – Making the Tough Choices

Go Hillsborough Part 4

It’s time for Hillsborough County to get down to the nitty gritty as the final part of the Go Hillsborough transportation public outreach process begins. Starting on Monday, May 11, there will be four Finding Consensus meetings and one final telephone town hall. Before I go into Finding Consensus, I want to briefly recap my observations from this past set of workshops called Making Choices. This third series in the Go Hillsborough series focused on what funding avenues do citizens want when it comes to being able to fund transit improvements, roadway maintenance, new roads, and pedestrian/bike facility improvements. Options range from a sales tax, to a community investment tax, gas taxes, property taxes, and possibly other sources like tolls. No one said this process would be easy, but process has become better understood now that we know what the issues are regarding transportation in Hillsborough County, and what transportation options and opportunities are available.

Observations and Thoughts from the Workshop

At the West Tampa "Making Choices" workshop. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
At the West Tampa “Making Choices” workshop. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

At the “Making Choices” workshops, citizens were asked to fill out a paper stating what funding options they would prefer to help fund transportation improvements and how much percentage of funds should go to each of the transportation options that were identified during the Exploring Options meetings.

The paper asked two straightforward questions. Please see the photo below:

This is the paper that citizens were asked to fill out at the "Making Choices" meetings. Credit: Connect Tampa Bay.
This is the paper that citizens were asked to fill out at the “Making Choices” meetings. Credit: Connect Tampa Bay.

So first and foremost, are voters willing to help fund expanded transportation options through a higher surtax? So far, the answer to that question has been encouraging.

More than 50 percent of respondents at all 12 locations, from New Tampa to Thonotosassa, said they are willing to consider an increase in gas or sales taxes.

While this is great news, the battle is far from over. We must now work together to find consensus on a balanced community transportation plan while trying to keep misinformation from Tea Party interests at bay. Many Tea Party insiders and activists have already made it clear to Hillsborough County that the only thing that they are willing to do, is to continue an utterly failed pro-road status quo that we can no longer afford to continue.

Below are the illustrations used to layout each of the funding options being considered, how they work, and what improvements they could fund:

Revenue Sources
Credit: Go Hillsborough
Revenue Sources 2
Credit: Go Hillsborough

See the other “Making Choices” boards at the Go Hillsborough Website.

I personally would support an increase in the sales tax and/or gas tax to help fund transportation improvements.

Property taxes, I’m okay with as long as they are kept in place. Remember that the failed Greenlight Pinellas plan had a tax swap, which not all citizens wanted or understood.

Secondly, what percentage of funding should go to each transportation option, given the priorities that have emerged? This answer will be different for everyone, but I believe that there should be a balance between roadway maintenance, expanded transit, and Bike/Ped facilities. I strongly believe that until we pay more attention to the roads that we have, and complete infrastructure projects that were never completed decades ago (i.e. the Veterans Expressway through Lutz); that there should be ZERO percent allocated to NEW ROADS.

Here’s how I believe that each transit mode should be funded:

Roadway Maintenance/Safety – 30%

New Roads/Widening – 0%

Transit Improvements – 40%

Ped/Bike Facilities – 30%

Now, let’s work together…

On Monday, May 11, 2015, the last public outreach phase of Go Hillsborough, Finding Consensus, will begin. This is where citizens have the opportunity to work together to resolve remaining differences on building a comprehensive transportation plan. This is also where you can make a difference in which funding methods should be closely examined to help fund these transportation improvements. Please see the list below for meeting dates and times. There will also be a Telephone Town Hall for those who are unable to attend the meetings so that you can still have a chance to make your voice heard. You may RSVP for any of these meetings at the Go Hillsborough website.

Be sure to tell our elected leaders that we want a balanced community transportation plan!

Brandon/Southern Hillsborough

Monday, May 11, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Bell Shoals Baptist Church
2102 Bell Shoals Road, Brandon, FL 33511

New Tampa/Temple Terrace/University/Central, West, and South Tampa

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Omar K. Lightfoot Center
10901 N 56th St., Temple Terrace, FL 33617

Northwest Hillsborough

Monday, May 18, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Town ‘n Country Regional Public Library
7606 Paula Drive #120, Tampa, FL 33615

Plant City/Northeast Hillsborough

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Trinkle Center
1206 North Park Road, Plant City, FL 33563

Finding Consensus Telephone Town Hall

Thursday, May 21, 2015 – 7:00PM to 8:00PM
Call 877-229-8493 (Toll Free) and enter PIN: 110301

Look out for the next posts in the This is Go Hillsborough blog series

Go Hillsborough Series 4B

Now that Part 4 in my This is Go Hillsborough blog series is complete, I invite you to stay tuned for Part 5 in the series, Working Together to Find Consensus, which will focus on the final series of meetings. I plan on publishing this post at some point on or before May 31, 2015. Then in June or July, I will wrap up the This is Go Hillsborough series with What We’ve Learned, which will summarize the entire Go Hillsborough outreach process.

Finally, towards the end of the year, I plan to write a couple of follow-up posts to the This is Go Hillsborough series to see where the county is at with crafting its transportation plan, and what could be next as we enter 2016.

Two-way conversion project on Cass/Tyler could impact downtown Tampa HART bus routes

You may have heard it through the local media outlets, a project to convert Cass and Tyler streets in northern downtown Tampa from their current one-way configurations to a two-way layout is getting underway, and this undertaking could result in numerous Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus routes being impacted by the construction, especially at night – when lane and road closures are more likely.

The project to convert these two streets into a two-way layout is part of the broader InVision Tampa plan, which aims at creating a livable urban space within downtown Tampa and surrounding areas. A buffered bicycle trail will also be included in this project, and will run the entire length of Cass from Nebraska Ave to at least the eastern merge point of Cass and Tyler. There is also a separate project at the western merge point of Cass and Tyler, by the Straz Center, that will radically transform the two streets. That project is the planned Arts and Entertainment Residences tower, slated to begin in the not-so-distant future.

During the time of construction, HART customers should pay close attention to their commutes. Although daytime trips may not be heavily impacted, evening trips will likely be detoured at times when roads need to closed, and will thus add on to travel times. Since the project crosses the Marion St Transitway, night time routes like the 2, 19, and 30 may temporarily be detoured. Any route detour or other such interruption will be announced by HART as early as possible. However, I strongly suggest that you sign up for HyperAlert email/text services if you ride any of the affected routes, as there will be notifications sent out when buses are on detour.

To make things easier in viewing which HART routes could be impacted by the Cass/Tyler project, I’ve created a Google Map that outlines the major transit corridors through the affected area of downtown Tampa. If you spot any inaccuracies, please let me know right away.

Happy 1st Year Anniversary SunRail!

The crowds board the train. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.
This was the scene on SunRail last May during the introductory fare-free period. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.

Today is a HUGE DAY in Orlando.

Today marks the first anniversary of the SunRail Commuter Rail line that stretches between DeBary and southern Orlando (Sand Lake Rd). Since the line’s opening, we’ve seen many positive and negative developments, as well as a good share of bashing from the rail haters (including Tea Party insiders and activists who continually call for the line to either be privatized or completely shut down). We’ve also seen the emergence of an advocacy group that is pushing for more service, including weekend service. As the Ultimate I-4 reconstruction project gets into major “tear up the roads” mode, SunRail will no doubt become a vital alternative for those wanting to escape the traffic headaches. In this post, I will look back at this past year of SunRail being in service and what achievements and hurdles it has faced, as well as what challenges remain as we head into 2016 and beyond.

First Year brings in largely mixed results

Like many passenger rail lines, when SunRail was first introduced with a period of fare-free service, tons and tons of people showed up (including myself). While many people showed up to be able to contemplate how SunRail would work into their daily commutes, some were on board trains simply for the fun of it. In fact, so many people arrived at the various stations during the fare-free period, that some riders had to be turned away due to trains becoming full. Once the revenue service began, ridership dropped and struggled to level out at more sustainable levels, creating the perfect climate for the various rail haters to come out of the woodwork and criticize SunRail for being a taxpayer boondoggle. Now that regular ridership has for the most part leveled out at sustainable levels, demand is steadily growing for more service. Many people complain in fact, about the fact that trains don’t run often enough and that there is no weekend service. The advocacy group, the SunRail Riders, have been working to change this picture by advocating for more service on the train – including weekend service. And while the SunRail Riders have done an excellent job at standing up for more transportation choices in metro Orlando, getting more service on SunRail has by far been the biggest challenge.

In December of last year, FDOT announced that they would add a late evening round trip, allowing weekday service to end during the 11PM hour instead of the 9PM hour. This run, which the SunRail Riders call the #NightTrain, has been popular with commuters coming off from work later in the evening, as well as those going home from sporting events, and those wanting to spend an extra hour or two hanging out in downtown Orlando after dinner. SunRail officials have stated that this late evening train will stick around at least through the end of 2015, but beyond that…is a huge mystery box. That’s why this late evening train needs to get as many riders as possible so that FDOT does not axe this run come December. If service is reduced, it will be that much harder to bring in more midday service, late night service that runs through 12-midnight, and weekend service.

Another plus for SunRail has been special events that have resulted in subsidized free service on the weekends. This has included the inaugural Orlando City Lions Soccer game and the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. These such events show just how strong weekend ridership could be if regular service were to be expanded. However, many officials still are skeptical of any such expansion, citing a nearly $30 million dollar price tag to add additional railcars and locomotives, as well as added labor, operational, and maintenance costs. The state of Florida recently announced that it had no funds available to fund any further service expansion on SunRail, although many of us transit supporters know…that is simply not the case. The state has money, but it’s been made blatantly clear that the number one transportation priority outside of regular roadway maintenance is the massive toll road expansion projects that the state claims will result in faster commutes for everyone while creating more jobs. What isn’t realized here though is that all of these toll roads, including managed toll lanes along our interstates (dubbed Lexus Lanes), will only create induced demand. Furthermore, the jobs being created through these roadway construction projects are largely temporary construction jobs, which will no doubt be reduced as these projects come to an end.

Other challenges for SunRail persist; including problems with the system’s ticketing machines, railway crossing incidents, and funding issues for its three planned extensions; one towards Poinciana to the south, DeLand to the north, and a third possible phase to Orlando International Airport. It is unclear at this time whether the ticketing machine problems will be resolved, the recent rash of car versus train incidents at railway crossings have led to the rail haters calling for more safety protocols for the system, and while area politicians are hopeful about obtaining federal funds for the planned extension to Poinciana, the two other extensions for SunRail aren’t as peachy when it comes to funding (the DeLand extension is facing low ridership projections, which may not allow it to get as much funding and support as originally hoped, and airport extension remains largely unfunded) . The two biggest questions remains though; what will become of SunRail as Ultimate I-4 continues? And what will become of it once the local municipalities and counties take over operation in 2021? As long as the Tea Party opposition towards passenger rail, and public transit as a whole for that matter, as well as the overall state of the economy being in limbo for at least a few more years, I don’t see things getting that much better for SunRail in the distant future. What I am hoping for though is that existing service will be sustainable for the long term so that one day, service can be expanded.