On Transit and Talent

July 30, 2018

The Tampa Bay region has made remarkable progress in the last decade in attracting higher wage jobs and creating collaborative partnerships between education and industry that are training our workforce to fill them. We’ve seen how smart and effective collaboration can make our cities and counties run better, giving businesses the confidence to expand and provide more opportunity for local residents. And yet we still struggle with fixing one of our most intractable problems: mass transportation.

Granted, it’s not an easy fix. It requires enormous amounts of money and the will of elected officials who’ll have to approve big, years-long projects that will be completed after many of them have left office. But kicking this can down the road is no longer an option. Our region’s window of opportunity to get the funding we need from various federal, state and local sources is about to close if we don’t get a move on.

Tampa Bay’s dearth of mobility options puts us dead last among 20 other competing metros in the United States in transit ridership. According to the Tampa Bay Partnership’s Regional Competitiveness Report, only 11% of Tampa Bay residents ride mass transit, opposed to 66% of residents in Seattle – the metro with the highest ridership. Nearly 10% of us spend an hour or more commuting from home to work every day.

The lack of mass transit options hurts our competitiveness as a region. In June, Mayors Buckhorn, Kriseman and Cretekos were unanimous in citing this issue as the single most important one capable of undermining the job opportunities and prosperity of tens of thousands of Tampa Bay residents and leaving employers with scores of unfilled jobs. Route cuts at Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) in the spring resulted in the threat of losing more than 300 jobs at call center One Touch Direct alone. This is a company that has employed thousands in Hillsborough County over the past several years. Now their employees, many of whom rely on public transportation and desperately need their jobs, stand to lose them because they can’t get to work. This makes no sense.

We may have a chance once again this November to spur action from our elected officials. If the signatures on the All for Transportation initiative’s collected petitions are of sufficient number and validated by the Supervisor of Elections, Hillsborough County residents will have the opportunity to vote on a one penny sales tax hike to fund transportation projects. If the voters demand more mobility options and show they are willing to help pay for them, it will be difficult for those in office to keep stalling.

Hundreds of communities around the country have figured this out. I’m confident that we can, too. Our future competitiveness depends on it.