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Politics

Transportation Experts Slam Hillsborough Light Rail Plans, Higher Sales Tax

August 6, 2018 - 4:00pm

A group of nationally recognized transportation experts lambasted a Hillsborough County special interest referendum Saturday, calling for a 1 percent sales tax increase to finance a mish mosh of transit options including an obsolete light rail system.

Four panel discussions with 10 speakers were featured at a daylong forum sponsored by the American Dream Coalition.

Transit ridership is declining in just about every urban area in the country, but “planners” continue to use outmoded models to predict future needs, declared Randal O’Toole, noted transportation expert from the Cato Institute. Tampa-St. Pete is no exception, he said, pointing out:

  • Tampa Bay urban area:  10 minutes by car to reach workplace compared to 60 minutes transit.
  • SF-Oakland: 30 minutes by car vs. 60 minutes transit.
  • There are 30,000 jobs in downtown Tampa vs. 300,000 in SF-Oakland.
  • 2.8 percent of Tampa Bay’s population have no cars. Eighteen percent of that group uses public transit. Despite this, Hillsborough County uses 40 percent of its transportation allocation for public transit.
  • Fastest growth of transit passengers is the group earning 75K and up.

O’Toole noted that ride sharing is killing traditional public transit, with 700 million more ride-sharing trips in 2017 than 2015. Efforts by local government to tax Uber and Lyft to bail out obsolete taxi companies and other forms of transit failed miserably.

The driverless car revolution looms as a huge transportation player, O’Toole went on, explaining that it has proven to be far more reliable than humans behind the wheel.

Roads will be far less congested, even if by only an ultra-conservative projection of 5 percent, he said. More than 50 companies are researching Automated Driving Systems (ADS).

He predicted that by 2030, transit organizations will be zombie agencies, existing only to pay off debt and pension obligations.

Marc Scribner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, elaborated on the advantages of ADS. Future impacts of the new technology include:

  • Increased safety
  • Increased accessibility for non-drivers
  • Reduced cost of taxi-style services
  • Reduced demand for off-street parking
  • Increased demand for curbside loading areas

”Anyone talking about light rail networks in 2018 is not being a good steward of the public purse,” Scribner said.

Chris Spencer, government consultant for GrayRobinson, enumerated the disruptions ADS will cause:  far fewer visits to trauma centers, less need for automobile insurance, and less government revenues from traffic violations.

Entrenched interests, including red light camera companies -- a pet program of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn -- will need to deal with the new paradigm.

Tampanian Jim Davison reviewed his 30-year transportation plan with virtually no new taxes. It had been presented to the Hillsborough County Commission in April.

Davison’s plan consists of five separate revenue sources totaling $8.468 billion, over the next 25 years. About $6.2 billion goes toward transportation, but the unique thing about this plan is that for its last 20 years, there is no increase in the property tax millage or sales tax rate. There is a small increase of .25 percent in the sales tax for the first six years until 2026, and then the sales tax returns to its current 7 percent.

The special interest, 8 percent sales tax proposal over 30 years, Davison asserted, is an attack on unincorporated areas and Hillsborough County’s smaller cities. Tampa reaps the benefits with 27 percent of the county population siphoning 53 percent of the tax receipts.

A copy of the alternate plan was sent to several editorial employees of the Tampa Bay Times.  The paper never published a word about it.

More than 50 citizens attended the eye-opening session including two local political candidates: Barb Haselden, District 6, Pinellas County Commission; and Terry Power, primary challenger against House District 64 incumbent Jamie Grant.

Despite being held at an easy-to-reach epicenter of the Tampa metro area -- the Holiday Inn near the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport -- the forum was notable for those who didn’t attend.

Absent: the willfully ignorant including every incumbent political officeholder in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties as well as representatives of the mainstream local media that have been propagandizing for the regressive sales tax to support technologically obsolete light rail.

Overextended, rapacious developers and special interests view light rail as a windfall that will be financed by a sales tax and burden low and middle income families and fixed income retirees.

The sales tax referendum is being heavily promoted by former hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik whose downtown Tampa development is in deep financial trouble.  He virtually owns the equally economically challenged Tampa Bay Times, which has conspicuously promoted light rail in downtown Tampa while withholding publication of its enormous drawbacks.

Vinik’s propaganda arm has pulled the identical stonewalling of information on other occasions. In March 2017, nationally-recognized transportation expert Mark Aesch, speaking at a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board meeting, called the Times characterization of Tampa Bay as having “one of the worst transit systems in America” as not only “silly and misleading” but 180 degrees from the truth.

His statement went unreported in the Times but not in Tampa Bay Beat.

In July, 2016 the Times refused to cover a summit of transportation experts held at the Don Cesar Hotel only 10 miles from its offices. A symposium panel attributed voter mistrust of government as the insurmountable barrier to referendum-based tax hikes to fund transportation.

That unanimous assessment did not jibe with the Times' agenda of bailing out developers at the expense of the average taxpayer.

Tampa Bay has been on the sales tax-financed hamster wheel of light rail for years. The 2010 Moving Hillsborough Forward referendum failed 58-42 percent. The 2014 Greenlight Pinellas vote failed by 62-38. The 2016 Go Hillsborough effort never made the ballot. The only difference in 2018 is that emerging technologies have rendered new light rail construction even more obsolete.

Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.

Comments

I am "for" Mass Transit - If it is well-planned and shown to actually HELP. The "existing old plans" are basically in need of COMPLETE re-thought... The "Tampa Area" is FIVE Counties. Wake up!

Perhaps so many people weren't there, because it was so poorly promoted. I follow transportation in the Tampa region very closely, much, much closer than the average citizen and I had no idea this "forum" was being held. Also, what a horribly written, meandering one sided article. If you promote yourself as news then get a clue about what it means to be a decent reporter.

""TOLDJA...!!! Tampa is "circling the drain",... and this phenomena is creeping NORTH from there faster than the "Everglades Boa"... If there was ever a better reason for "Two-State-Solution" to this "Nature's Snake Creep" OR this "Political Snake Creep"; Florida's "political under-class" (in cahoots with "Special-Interest-Lobbyists) is keeping it from YOU Folks ! Make NO mistake,.. this is a tax-draining, PROGRESSIVE, creeping, long-term ASSAULT on Florida's ENTIRE Tax-Base, with NO respite in sight ! ! !

The people of Tampa Bay keep wishing for what cannot be...ethical political leadership from unethical politicians. These politicians are able to screw the voters, because they get to appoint people to the MPO and TBARTA, who do their bidding. But since these people are appointed, they can't be voted off these boards, and since the TBT lies to them most cannot see the problem. Tampa Bay politicians don't give a sh*t about congestion or public transit. They only care about getting control of millions & millions of dollars in federal grant money, AND being able to raise our taxes. The people in Tampa Bay remind me of Churchill who said, "People stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened."

Your first sentence says it all!

The American Dream Coalition is like the Heritage Foundation, like most Florida politicians, a bunch of TRASH. THEY ARE LIARS AND TOOLS OF THE STILL VERY MUCH IN EXISTENCE CONSPIRACY WHICH DESTROYED AMERICA'S STREET AND ELECTRIC RAILWAYS IN THE FIRST PLACE AND THEIR LIES AND COMPLETELY FALSE STATEMENTS ARE, LIKE THEY ARE, RIGHT WING TRASH.

"TOOLS OF THE STILL VERY MUCH IN EXISTENCE CONSPIRACY WHICH DESTROYED AMERICA'S STREET AND ELECTRIC RAILWAYS" So you think the American Dream Coalition & Heritage Foundation, destroyed the street car system? Please educate me, how did they do that?

Educate yourself fool, and "jerry" to school with you!

What an idiot, biased to the core...……... First lightrail is way into the future...………. Most of the money goes to roads, repairs , other improvements and buses...…………. Anyone who thinks SDC or Uber will replace mass transit or cut traffic is delusional...……….. SDC will cost $1-2/mile or more plus boarding fee. And since SDCs, uber make the same number of trips traffic will be just as bad.........….Ubers from Tampa to Riverview is $20+...…………...And it is the county that will finally get decent bus service if it passes.

What do YOU care,... you'll just "Q-up" for the "ride" just like the rest of your automation, "Lemming" ilk "tax-eaters"...

Even most progressives realize light rail is archaic. The numbers don’t lie: 70 percent of the population will get screwed, all for bailing out Vinik’s faltering development in downtown Tampa...anyone familiar with the numbers know that it is you who is “biased to the core.”

I KNOW..!, LET'S put a new "RAYS" Baseball Stadium right where they used to make cigars (in that crappy little old neighborhood trying to disguise itself as a major tourist destination); THAT might "turn the trick" ! HA, HA, HA, HA,...!!!!!

Thank you for your insight!

I AM 10,000% IN FAVOR OF MASS TRANSIT AND PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION EVERYWHERE!!! WE LIKE TO THINK THAT WE HAVE TALENTS FOR EVERYTHING, BUT IN REALITY MANY SHOULD NOT BE ON THE ROAD DRUNK OR SOBER. TAKE AN EXAMPLE: FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE CHRONIC ILLNESS AND DEBILITATING HEALTH CIRCUMSTANCES NOT FULLY FOCUSING ON DRIVING OR TRAFFIC, THEY NEED MASS TRANSIT AND PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. WE ALSO NEED WALK ABLE CITIES AND ROOM FOR BICYCLES AND TRICYCLES. LEAVE THE DRIVING FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE OF SOUND MINDS AND WHO ARE CAPABLE OF FULLY CONCENTRATING ON THE ROADS AND THE DRIVING ENVIRONMENT AROUND THEM. THERE ARE SOME YOUNG PEOPLE AND THERE ARE SOME OLD PEOPLE WHO SHOULD NEVER BE ON THE ROADS. WE SHOULD ALSO HAVE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS THROUGHOUT THE USA THAT CONNECT CITIES WITH EACH OTHER. WE MAY HAVE TALENTS IN OTHER AREAS, BUT FOR SOME WHO MAY BE THE MAJORITY DRIVING IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

How do the old get to the mass transit? How do they get from mass transit to the doctor? How do they get back home? It will cost a fortune to get to the mass transit. Seems Uber is more efficient door to door service not push and shove of mass transit.

You definitely don't have talent for writing. Must be using an old teletype machine. ALL CAPs, yu!

"EVERYWHERE", (he said), "EVERYWHERE"!!! (Can't YOU read "CAPs",.. or are you lacking the 'talent for r-e-a-d-i-n-g' ???

Any "hedge fund manager", like Vinik, promotes on debt instruments that can be further bundled and "securitized" for further sale in the "marketplace". He makes billions off his "carried interest" tax loophole and the sales of debt backed by taxpayer. Bad ju ju for any government entity taking the bait.

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