This map shows a snapshot of the local area included in Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority’s Master Plan update approved by the board June 24 2011. The route marked in red is a proposed frequent short-distance rail line. The dark blue and light blue lines are routes for proposed managed lane express buses. The area is green running through downtown St. Petersburg is a proposed bus rapid transit route through mixed traffic.
LARGO – The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority is helping two area agencies that provide bus services to conduct a study on whether they should merge, but the authority hasn’t taken a position on the issue.
The study regarding The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has begun and the findings of the joint meetings among the agencies are due to the Legislature in February, said Amy Ellis, TBARTA’s director of communications and government relations, at a Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce luncheon June 12.
Chamber President Tom Morrissette asked Ellis whether TBARTA has a position on the possible merger of PSTA and HART.
“We have not taken a formal stand. The way it stands now is the Legislature has asked those two entities to come together and talk about how they can do things more efficiently and possibly merge,” Ellis said. “Our position at this point is fact finding. We want to look at it; we want to see what makes sense.”
Brad Miller, PSTA executive director, has called the $100,000 study “a looming challenge.” He has said that the issue is complicated because the two agencies were created in different ways by the state.
Also at the chamber luncheon, Ellis also was asked what percentage of future mass transit would be rail-oriented.
“What we are hearing is that rail is not the solution for every part of our region,” Ellis said. “I don’t know what the percentage is, but we are moving a little bit away from rail toward bus rapid transit. We heard from the public in Hillsborough County particularly that they are not ready for rail, that it’s too expensive. We are hearing that a little in Pinellas, but the support for rail does seem to be a little bit higher in Pinellas than it was in Hillsborough County,” Ellis said.
In November 2010 Hillsborough voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed 1 percent increase in the sales tax for light rail train routes along with bus and road improvements. Several agencies in Pinellas County are working as partners to develop plans for a 24-mile light-rail system.
The Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority was created by the Legislature in 2007 to develop and implement a regional master transportation plan for the seven-county area it serves.
Agency officials go to many events and work closely with the media, Ellis said.
“When [TBARTA officials] go to presentations the kind of things they are hearing are connections to the airport,” Ellis said. “People are very discouraged there is not an easier way to get to and from the airport,” she said.
“They want us to work with CSX to use existing rail lines. Everybody wants expanded bus service.
Bicycle and pedestrian safety are a huge issue in this area,” Ellis said.
Ellis said TBARTA’s first task was to come up with a balanced multi-modal transportation system.
She said when officials looked at different modes of transportation a lot of people were discouraged to hear the plans could take as long as 50 years to implement.
“But what we like to point out is that the interstate system, the highway system in the United States, was begun in the 1950s and now today we have one of the best highway interstate systems in the world,” Ellis said.
The transportation authority serves Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. For more information about TBARTA, visit tbarta.com.
The luncheon meeting was held at Royal Palms Theater, 200 Lake Ave. in Largo.