Cross-Bay Ferry – What did we learn?

Today (April 30, 2017) marked the final day of the six-month Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project. While I’m very sad to see this mode of transport go, I remain hopeful that the City of Tampa, the City of St. Petersburg, and the counties of Pinellas and Hillsborough, will be able to put together the funding needed to have at least a seasonal ferry service in place for the long term.

What did we learn?

Despite concerns that the ferry wouldn’t generate enough ridership, it actually generated enough to allow the operating company to reimburse some of the money back to the cities and counties. The strongest ridership patterns were seen on the weekends, and believe it or not – most riders were residents rather than tourists visiting the region.

What’s next?

The four governments involved will evaluate the full results from the trial period and determine what will be needed to establish a more permanent ferry service – even if it starts out as a seasonal service. Hillsborough County leaders are determined to complete its plans to launch a ferry line between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base, and if enough boats are purchased for that route, some could be used for service between Tampa and St. Pete on weekends.

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Go Hillsborough – Part 1 – An Overview

Credit: HARTride 2012
Credit: HARTride 2012

Let the discussion begin

You’ve likely been hearing about it over the past few months, but now the official public outreach process has begun in Hillsborough County. What is this outreach process about exactly? It’s about building a better transportation network throughout the county. Because let’s face it, we’re at a pivotal crossroads right now, and unless we act to fix the situation at hand, things will only get worse from here.

Read more

HRT Snow Routes

Photo Credit: Hampton Roads Transit (HRT)

Back in December, I told you about Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) working on a system of Snow Routes, designed to provide basic bus services in the event that sustained snowfall is forecasted to exceed six inches.

In the last few weeks, HRT has unveiled those Snow Routes and installed blue “snowflake” signs at designated bus stops. The routes themselves are designated by color and will operate every hour (unless otherwise indicated) between 6:00am and 8:00pm Monday through Saturday. Sunday service will NOT be provided.

Now keep in mind, these Snow Routes will only be activated if sustained snowfall is to exceed six inches. Usually such circumstances will warrant schools and many other government facilities to close due to many streets being impassable. Additionally, many transit agencies, including HRT, do not have the resources available to clear streets on their own. This is left to the responsibility of the area municipal governments (usually the Public Works Department) to ensure that all streets are cleared of snow and ice. What this does do though, is that the plowing/clearing of thoroughfares is prioritized so that buses can move through quickly.

In events by which the snow routes are not activated, HRT will operate normal transit service to the fullest extent it can while ensuring the safety of customers and employees. There will no doubt be delays and detours, and customers should always arrive at their stop early to ensure on-time boarding. Additionally, customers stay tuned to local media outlets and social media for updates. Customers can also contact Customer Service (when open) for information, but keep in mind that operations may be limited during major weather events.

HRT will exercise caution when operating light rail and ferry services and will decrease or suspend services if weather conditions worsen. Customers should plan accordingly.

Further information on HRT’s Snow Routes and other weather related transit procedures can be found on HRT’s website.

No New Funding (equals) A Transportation Disaster

Transportation Trust Fund blog post logo

It seems that every month, we’re faced with a new looming fiscal disaster that is only averted by our elected officials in Washington D.C. at the very last minute. Many of us know all to well the words “fiscal cliff” and “credit downgrade”. Both phrases have been synonymous with the continual partisan bickering in the Capital.

Now, usher in the Federal Highway Trust Fund, a pool of funds that is supposed to be dedicated to highway construction across the nation. This fund was established decades ago when the President Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was being built. The fund was meant to provide financing to the system, as well as other highways across the nation. This fund has been largely supplied through gasoline taxes, which haven’t been raised in a very long time, and is now in danger of running dry. Without any action by Congress to re-authorize transportation funding, long-awaited highway projects like the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway in Garland, TX will never be able to be built, and improvements existing highways will eventually cease. This would not only significantly delay the much-needed upgrades to our nation’s aging infrastructure, but it will also cost thousands of jobs within the construction industry.

So what’s the issue here exactly? Well, many members of Congress have shown little to no interest in raising gas tax revenues, especially with more fuel efficient vehicles hitting the roads. Some legislators in fact, have instead opted to push and shove through plans to implement what is called the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, which would essentially bill each and every commuter based on the amount of miles they travel. This plan has hit many roadblocks of its own, including opposition from privacy advocates who fear that equipment used to gather data to enforce VMT would possibly gather too much info about drivers. Currently, the only US state to have VMT in place is in Oregon. But they’re only operating VMT in a limited scope as of right now.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, the Federal Highway Trust Fund has been able to help modernize and expand many of our highways, by helping to keep state transportation coffers filled. This in-turn allows the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to keep their program of projects fully funded for the upcoming fiscal year. Federal money I’m sure has played a role in being able to help fund two projects in Pinellas County that have been gaining dust in the planning books for the past few decades. One project is to convert the portion of Gandy Blvd between Interstate 275 and 4th St N into a limited-access freeway flanked by frontage roads. Construction on this project was able to begin recently and is slated for completion in 2017 or 2018. The second project, which is not planned to begin until 2017, is the Gateway Expressway, which would convert portions of Pinellas County Road 296 and 611 into a limited-access tollway, also flanked by frontage roads.

Even more importantly though, is plans to rebuild the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects I-275 between St. Pete and Tampa. Although state funds are already in place to build a basic four-laned bridge, those funds could possibly be impacted down the road, should FDOT have to re-prioritize highway projects due to a lack of federal funding. In this article from the Orlando Sentinel, FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad mentioned that the agency has put together a contingency fund of “couple hundred million dollars” just in case Congress doesn’t act. He has also mentioned that the planned Express Lanes project for I-4 through Orlando will be protected in whatever way possible should FDOT have to re-shuffle projects. This still leaves uncertainty for other road projects, especially those that tie in pedestrian and transit improvements, like bike lanes, improved sidewalks, and bus queue/jump lanes.

Furthermore, public transit funding could also plummet if Congress does not act on re-authorizing transportation funding. This is because a portion of the Federal Highway Trust Fund includes as Mass Transit Fund, which was established in 1982 and is also dependent on gas tax revenues. This would force many transit agencies across the nation to slash services and hike fares. For already cash-strapped agencies like Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), further reductions in transit funding could mean that recent improvements in rush-hour, late-night, and weekend services could all be scaled back come 2015/2016. If the drop in funds is prolonged, HART could be forced to raise fares again…possibly much higher than previous increases. For the record, HART’s last base fare increases were in 2007 and 2012 respectively. Between 2007 and 2012, the base one-way fare has increased from $1.50, to $1.75, to $2.00. HART’s recent fare increases have been more modest compared to other districts who have had to raise fares in a more steep manner. Imagine however, if that fare suddenly jumped to $3.50…or even $4.00? Transit would begin to become unaffordable for most riders. And since purchasing new buses goes through a federal process, and utilizes federal funding, HART’s loss of transit buses could accelerate, forcing entire routes and services to be eliminated all at once.

The most grim consequence that any prolonged Congressional inaction could have on all this will no doubt be the loss of construction jobs. Many state leaders have warned that if the trust fund runs out, job losses could begin as early as this year as projects begin stall out. This will undoubtedly hurt the slow-going economic recovery and possibly even send the country right back into recession. And while some leaders have proposed just putting another “band-aid” on the matter, which many funding proposals have seen in recent years, this game of “kicking the can down the road” is not going to work for much longer. A long-term funding solution has to be devised…NOW!

l would strongly suggest contacting your legislators in Washington and tell them to come up with a long-term transportation funding solution that will be able to help our economy recover and grow. We cannot let Congress keep playing the “kick the can down the road” game, especially with transportation. They must devise a long-term solution to keep our infrastructure funded.

February, 2014 Ridership Report


The numbers are out once again! And the month of February brought forth strong transit ridership along Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), and Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). Let’s take a quick glance at the numbers! For the report, I’ve been able to get clarification as to what modes of bus transport are included in the calculations. Please note that Rail and Ferry services are not included in these numbers.


For HART, February, 2014’s bus ridership numbers could not be anymore stronger! Bus ridership on the HART system grew by 3.5% over February, 2012, with MetroRapid taking in 50,587 riders! February 4th saw the highest single-day ridership for the month, with 59,000 boardings, and 15 out of 20 weekdays saw ridership surpass the 50,000 mark!

About the only sore spot for HART is the In-Town Trolley, which has seen ridership continue to diminish. There is currently a study underway to re-evaluate downtown Tampa transit services, including possible improvements to the TECOline Streetcar Line (which has also immensely suffered from low ridership and service cuts), a revamp of the downtown bus circulator system, and the possibility of re-opening Marion St to general traffic. I’ll have more on this in an upcoming post.

PSTA suffered a relatively small decline of less than 1% in February, 2014 vs February, 2013. While this could be for a variety of reasons, bus ridership remains strong along the PSTA system, with 1,093,069 riders using the agency’s fixed-route bus and trolleybus routes, and flex-route connector services. Ridership on the St. Pete Downtown Looper Trolleybus and the Clearwater Jolley Trolley, which are partially funded by PSTA, saw passenger numbers reach 5,048 and 41,537 respectively. Let’s hope that the Safety Harbor Jolley Trolley trial phase is a huge success!

HRT suffered a bus ridership decline of 6.9%, likely due to the episodes of inclement weather that has struck Hampton Roads during the month of February (winter just does not want to let go of the north it seems). Average bus ridership during all days of the week took a hit, with average weekday ridership decreasing by 7.2%, Saturday by 2.4%, and Sunday by about 1.1%. Comparing February, 2014 ridership against the same month in 2013 and 2012, bus ridership declined by 6.5%.

One huge sore spot for HRT is the GoPass 365 program. This program allows participating employers and education institutions to hand out a specific number of passes to employees and students. These passes allow participants to use the HRT bus, light rail, and ferry systems without having to pay the normal fares. The program began in mid 2011 with ridership from participating organizations growing since then. Originally, the program was structured in a way that one only had to show their employer or institutional ID card to board the bus, train, or ferry.

Unfortunately, overall system ridership has not seen a dramatic increase as HRT had hoped for, which in-turn has hurt farebox revenues and budget/revenue projections. This has forced HRT to make changes in the way that the GoPass 365 program operates, as well as resulted in several organizations pulling out of the program for next fiscal year (which will be FY 2014/2015). One of the participating institutions that saw the largest overall GoPass 365 ridership during FY 2013/2014 was Tidewater Community College. They are among the several organizations that have decided to not renew their contract with HRT due to the changes that are planned for FY 2014/2015. I suspect that if further changes are not made to stifle these negative trends, the GoPass 365 program will end up being eliminated altogether.


Don’t sit around and do nothing! TAKE ACTION ON BETTER TRANSIT!

In recent months, we’ve seen the efforts of Greenlight Pinellas bringing forth more and more supporters who want better transit for Pinellas County. However, we’re also seeing that other municipalities have been reluctant to move forward with transit expansion plans, fearing that past attempts may come back to haunt them, or that fiscal conservatives may greatly sway public opinion in going against more transit options, because they would cost taxpayers too much and put them on the hook should plans for transit expansion go down the tubes.

The situation in Hillsborough County, FL

Here in Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners have been taking a back seat when it comes to whether or not they’ll push to get another transit referendum on the ballot in 2015 or 2016. Many members have been very reluctant to move forward, citing that the 2010 defeat is still too fresh in voters minds to make another attempt right away. They would rather play “wait and see” with how Greenlight Pinellas will fare in the November, 2014 elections before making a firm decision as to whether or not to put something on the ballot.

Furthermore, the transit activist group Connect Tampa Bay recently learned that the county commission has not yet provided funds to the regional transportation authority TBARTA, to be able to continue working to improve Tampa Bay’s transportation network. But wait…it doesn’t stop there. The money that the commission is holding back from TBARTA was already approved. So what’s the holdup? Why is the county commision doing this? If they don’t want to lead the way in getting Hillsborough County a better transit system, then why do things to hold the region back? Please help get the message to the Hillsborough County Commission that we won’t settle for this!

Meanwhile, anti-tax group No Tax for Tracks is working hard to derail Pinellas’ transit expansion plans, arguing that the county doesn’t need expanded transit, but rather that its transit agency, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, is mismanaged and needs to “clean house”. The group also argues that only a handful of bus routes gain enough riders to be able to justify such a system expansion. In my view, seeing an adjacent municipality to just sit there and do nothing about transit expansion gives groups like NTFT even more ammunition to shoot down efforts going on in Pinellas. Remember, what happens in Pinellas is going to impact all of us here in Tampa Bay, whether you’re a Pinellas resident or not.

The situation in Virginia Beach, VA

In the municipality of Virginia Beach, voters overwhelmingly decided to pass a resolution in the fall of 2012 that would allow for an ultimate expansion of Norfolk’s light rail line to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Until now however, the city has not yet made a move as to whether they’ll firmly push forward with plans put forth by the region’s transit agency, Hampton Roads Transit, or go with one of a couple privately-backed proposals that tout an earlier completion date of the rail extension at a lower cost than the transit agency’s estimates.

By the Virginia Beach city council lingering on the issue longer and longer without a decision will hurt the city’s chances of getting improved transit to their neck of the woods. In fact, it would be a terrible mistake for Virginia Beach not to bring light rail to the Oceanfront, because the economic and political situation now may get even worse down the road, even if technology gets better. There would be no sense in trying to implement better rail technology if the government has no funding to be able to implement it.

In Conclusion

Both Hillsborough County and Virginia Beach have a lot riding on the rails right now. Both governments are clearly very reluctant to push forth transit improvements, yet transit supporters can’t let these municipalities just skirt on by like this. We have to get the message to our elected officials that we will not settle for the status quo, and that we won’t let them just play “wait and see”! We have to move ahead with providing additional options for people who no longer want to be confined to just driving from A to B and being stuck in gridlock in the process!

HARTride 2012

No new funding = Cutbacks in future transit expansion

In my third installment of “No new funding (equals)”, I focus on some disappointing news that broke over the weekend in Hampton Roads, VA. The area’s two major transit districts; Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) and the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) were slated to get a good amount of state and federal funds over the next six years to help replace aging buses and make other necessary improvements to their systems. Unfortunately, changes in the way that funding is calculated within two federal programs. These changes resulted in a much lower revenue estimate than originally planned, which in-turn, forced the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, to substantially reduce the amount of funds that they would be allowed to dish out for various transportation projects throughout the region; including public transit.

So what does this funding reduction mean for both HRT and WATA? It means that neither district will have the funds available to purchase additional buses needed to replace older units and to expand their current fleets, which in-turn, means that both districts will have to hold onto older buses for a longer period of time, thus increasing maintenance costs. HRT was also hoping to be able to purchase a fourth ferry boat for its ferry system. That too has been delayed as a result of these changes. However, both districts will continue to explore other funding avenues to be able to obtain new buses.