Transit eNews of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization and its Transportation Disadvantaged Coordinating Board (TDCB) 

Issue 6 | December 2012

 

In This Issue

New Funding Strategies
Bus Ridership Highs
TD Stats 2011-2012
HART COO in Top 40
HART Changes
PSTA's New NW Connection
Transit Merger Studied
Regional Transportation Coordination
Virginia Beach Light Rail
Bold Ads Attract Choice Ride
Aging Boomers Reshape Travel

 

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MPO Researches New Transportation Funding Strategies
DEC 2012 MPO Board Meeting

After 18 months of public opinion research, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) endorsed exploration of funding lower-cost transportation improvements, including improved intersections, more bus service, safer sidewalks, crosswalks, and trails, as well as demonstration rail and rapid bus projects as part of its next long range plan. Such projects would need to be shown with a new source of funding in the plan. One possibility is a sales tax that would need approval from voters in Tampa and/or Hillsborough County.

 

Two years ago, Hillsborough County's voters turned down a sales tax referendum to fund transportation projects. But voters in Tampa and Temple Terrace approved it by margins of up to 60%. This left the MPO asking questions:

  • What do voters think about transportation? wants
  • What do they really want?
  • How should we pay for future needs?

 

The MPO hired a professional public opinion firm to find out. Focus group research conducted among countywide voters revealed that the economy and jobs were the number one concern followed by traffic and transportation. Participants saw congestion as a failure to plan ahead, and expressed frustration with intersections as well as unsafe walking and bicycling. They also told the MPO that basic bus service was important, although many lacked familiarity with their local transit system.

 

A second round of focus groups asking voters about taxes and funding revealed that transportation is regarded a problem today that will only get worse. Weighing in on the variety of taxes or fees that could pay for transportation, they expressed broader forms such as sales and gas taxes were preferred. But focus group members also expressed concern about government's ability to be accountable, transparent, and deliver on its promises.

 

To quantify these opinions, the MPO conducted a statistically representative telephone poll of 800+ Hillsborough County voters last July and August. Similar to the previous research, 39% said that jobs and employment were the most important issue, with the economy and public transportation tied for second. Eighty-five percent cited traffic congestion as a serious concern. Road and bridge maintenance, intersection improvements like turn lanes and smart signals, better bus service, safer walkways, and a rail line on under-used freight tracks gained support as higher priorities.  Survey respondents were evenly split on whether they would support a penny sales tax for transportation, but 17% of those opposed would change their mind if the tax were reduced to a half-penny.

 

Responding to what was learned, the MPO voted to explore new funding strategies for transportation for the update of the long range plan. This includes, but is not limited to, a county and/or city voter-approved sales tax. The MPO has already gone on record in support of a change in state law to enable major cities to hold their own sales tax referenda.

 

Key features in this funding strategy:

  • Encompass a broad mix of projects, including intersection turn lanes, smart signals, bus system expansion, better sidewalks, crosswalks and trails
  • A portion dedicated to communities to help pay for local priority projects
  • Lower-cost pilot projects, such as:

Sprinter DMU  

Self-propelled rail cars operating on the existing freight line between USF and downtown Tampa with the possibility of extending into Pasco County if state support were to be obtained

 

BRT in special lane Rapid express buses operating on special lanes such as between Tampa, Westshore and the Airport, as well as in the Bruce B Downs or Selmon Crosstown corridor

  • Oversight should come from an independent group such as the MPO to ensure that the new funding is spent for its intended purposes
For more information, view the 2035 Plan Post Referendum Analysis online.


Bus Ridership Hits All-Time High

Maybe it's the marketing or the tweaks to the routes. Maybe it's because gas nearing $4 a gallon. Whatever the reason, bus ridership in Hillsborough County keeps going up.

 

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) set an annual bus ridership record for the third consecutive year, with passenger trips increasing 4.3 percent to more than 14 million. "Although we may not yet have light rail to serve commuters and visitors, record ridership for the third straight year in a row shows that this community has noticed HART's transformation from the bus system of an earlier time," said HART Board Chair Fran Davin.

 

According to the agency's figures, express ridership rose 11.4%, Saturday ridership increased 4.7%, and Sunday ridership gained 2.2%. These figures cover the last fiscal year, which ended on September 30.  HART has been dealing with rising ridership at the same time one of the main funding sources - property tax revenue - has dwindled by reducing or eliminating routes, installing shelters, improving stops and adding smaller, more fuel-efficient HARTplus vans to the fleet.

 

HART also plans to build a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station as it phases in buses that run on that fuel. If all goes according to plan, CNG buses that run on compressed natural gas will make up 70 percent of HART's fleet within six years.

 

Details courtesy of tbo.com 

 

 

Riding on Sunshine -
More Trips, More Efficiently


Annually, Hillsborough County's Community Transportation Coordinator, known as the Sunshine Line, provides a report card on service rendered to our transportation disadvantaged population. This includes seniors, persons with disabilities, at-risk children, and low-income persons.  

 

Sunshine Line by the numbers from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012:

 

  • 16,699 people were provided 832,265 door to door trips (8% increase from last year)
  • 6,060 people were provided 436,486 bus pass trips (down 3% from last year)
  • Total cost of $15,843,584 including more than $7,000,000 in local support and the remainder from state and federal grants  
  • 278 paratransit vehicles
  • Almost 7 million miles
  • Only a 2% no-show rate  
  • Medicaid trips increased by 26% (39,681) with 5% decrease in cost

 

 

HART COO named to Top 40 Under 40

Katharine Eagan, the Chief Operating Officer of HART, was listed on Mass Transit magazine's Top 40 Under 40 list.

 

Eagan has been with the Hillsborough County transit agency since 2009, when she took over as Chief of Service Development; a year ago she was promoted to COO. She started at HART after working at the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore, as well as public transit agencies in Dallas and San Angelo, Texas.

 

In a press release, Eagan's boss - HART CEO Philip Hale - said, "Personally, she is the most intelligent transit professional that I have worked with in my 39-year career. I am confident Ms. Eagan will continue to be an innovative leader in the transit industry, and a dedicated public servant to this community as significant transit improvements are implemented in the near future, such as MetroRapid North-South."  

 

As many people know, funding for transit agencies like HART and PSTA continue to get smaller, while demands for service are growing.  In a statement, Eagen acknowledged that, saying, "Like most transit properties in the United States, HART is doing more with less - operators, maintenance staff, customer service representatives and administrative support - while providing 40 percent more trips compared to 2006, when HART had the same level of funding as it does today. Therefore, to be recognized by peers facing the same challenges is very humbling."

 


HART adjusts Service & Fares

HART routinely reviews its bus routes and makes adjustments to improve safety, efficiency and better serve its riders. In addition, HART evaluates its fares and makes changes if needed. The last time fares changed was in November 2008.

 

The changes as of Sunday, November 11: 

 

Route Changes:

  • Routes 50X and 61LX: 50X and 61LX merge as a single, local-fare route. 61LX extended to serve Carrollwood Baptist Church and Citrus Park Park-n-Rides, previously served by 50X.
  • Brandon Flex: North boundary of the zone expanded from Oakfield Drive to Brandon Boulevard. Regularly scheduled weekday route will be initiated within the Brandon Flex zone.  

Schedule Changes:

  • Route 28X: reduced from two trips in the morning and two in the afternoon to one trip in the morning and one in the afternoon. 
  • Route 16: Minor schedule adjustments.  
  • Routes 30, 34 and 39: Frequency improved from 35 minutes to 30 minutes. 
  • Brandon Flex: Saturday service will be eliminated.
  • Holiday service: the following days will be migrated from Saturday to Sunday level of service: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Most holidays will now operate on a Sunday level of service; Day After Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Martin Luther King Jr. Day will operate on a Saturday level of service.
View the new HART Routes and Schedule.


PSTA offers New Connection
to NW Hillsborough

PSTA North County Connector

 

Starting December 10, 2012, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) will launch a new connection over the top of the Bay between Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.  Called the "North County Connector", it will travel from HART's Northwest Transfer Center on West Waters Ave. to Sheldon Rd. and West Hillsborough Ave. to Oldsmar and from there to the Shoppes at Boot Ranch and Westfield Countryside Mall where connections can be made to other PSTA routes.  It is one of three new North County Connector routes designed to serve northern Pinellas County and vicinity.

 

This represents the fourth transit connection between the two counties, the others being HART's 200X on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, PSTA's 300X over the Howard Frankland Bridge and PSTA's 100X on the Gandy Bridge.

 

Another feature of the new connector is "route deviation" to allow passengers to call in advance and be picked up at any location within the service area.  The bus will travel off its pre-set route to pick up passengers at their door if it is within miles of the route.

 

Call 727/540-1900 or visit www.PSTA.net for more information.

 

 

Transit Merger Studied

McCollom Management Consulting of Darnestown, Maryland, an urban transportation consulting firm, said the possibility of merging Hillsborough County and Pinellas County transit agencies would "buck a national trend." The Florida Legislature required the transit authorities in both counties to report on a potential merger, additional consolidation, or reorganization of each agency in hopes one or more of the options would result in lower costs.

 

The two agencies already share intercounty bus routes and buy fuel together to trim costs. Of eight merger or consolidation attempts studied, all but one resulted in no changes or only small steps toward consolidation.  "It's remarkable how many cities have considered transit consolidation, but Hampton Roads, Virginia is the only one that's done it," said Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority chief executive Brad Miller.

 

The consulting firm came to the conclusion that mergers would not result in a significant change in service after studying eight mergers or consolidation attempts from other cities.  Draft findings were presented at a HART meeting on December 3rd and at a PSTA meeting on December 5th. A joint discussion will take place on December 10, with final recommendations to come forward by January 14 ahead of the legislatures February 1st deadline.

    

Details courtesy of bizjournals.com.

 

  

Coordination for Better Regional Transportation 


Throughout the Tampa Bay region, many different groups find solutions to transportation problems. Because of the diversity of projects and plans, the public is often confused about which agency is responsible for which projects and whether those projects are connected in any way. Even those in the industry are sometimes not sure who is doing what.

 

To improve the public's understanding of transportation priorities and ensure that the most important projects are put forth, our region must work collectively. Regions that know what they want get what they want.  To that end, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and the West Central Florida MPO Chairs Coordinating Committee (CCC) have joined forces to enhance regional transportation planning, particularly in the area of public outreach and involvement. By combining their efforts, TBARTA and the CCC hope to simplify the public's understanding of the sometimes complex regional transportation planning process. Collaboration will ensure consistent messaging and will save taxpayer dollars by reducing duplication.

 

"We are pleased to have this opportunity to work more closely with the CCC,'' said TBARTA Executive Director Bob Clifford. "The issue of transportation can be very confusing for people. Working together, we plan to come up with the most effective strategies for keeping the public informed.''

 

 

Light Rail Passes in Virginia Beach

Light rail supporters wanted a decisive approval of a referendum they hoped would spur the city to bring The Tide, Norfolk's light rail line, to Virginia Beach. And, they got it!

 

About 62% of voters approved the referendum, according to the State Board of Elections. Though the referendum was nonbinding, the City Council likely will adopt an ordinance stating it will pursue light-rail financing and development options. "City Council now has the confidence that this is what the citizens really want," said Carolyn McPherson, executive director of the grassroots organization Light Rail Now.

 

Proponents said they'd gotten positive feedback while campaigning at the polls, and they noted the broad base of support, from tourism groups to other municipalities.

"I think people understand that light rail is here to stay," said Aubrey Layne, chairman of Move Hampton Roads, a pro-light-rail political action committee.

 

Light-rail supporters have argued that extending The Tide into Virginia Beach would advance economic development, ease traffic congestion, and offer a transportation alternative. The Tide started carrying Norfolk passengers in August 2011.

 

Before trains can start running in the city, a Hampton Roads Transit study must be completed. That will answer questions about light rail's cost, as well as ridership and the effect on congestion and the environment. The study will be completed in the spring of 2014. The subject of the study is a 10.6-mile former Norfolk Southern freight-rail line, which the city purchased in September 2010. The earliest the light rail extension could be running would be in 2018.

 

Details and image courtesy of hamptonroads.com.

 

 

Bold Transit Ads Attract Choice Riders

"Make metro cool." That was Michael Lejeune's task 10 years ago when he was hired as the first creative director of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"Unless you had to take public transportation, the majority of people thought that's not for me," he said.

 

With support from 20 internal writers, photographers and other creative hires, Mr. Lejeune, 49, began chipping away at the blind spot he perceived. One of his team's early efforts was to shift how people spoke about the M.T.A. Ditching the old verbiage in favor of a new tagline, he quipped "Metropolitan Transit Authority? Oh, please. Just say 'Go Metro!'" Still in disbelief that 'Go Metro' had been approved, he pushed again with a tongue-in-cheek tag "Plan your next trip, man" featuring two flower children mugging on the same poster now decorating the cityscape.

 

After 18 months of advertising, discretionary ridership rose 8% percent, double the national average increase at that time, without significant additions or changes during that period. "So, we do see the correlation between messaging and an increase in choice ridership," Lejeune added.  

 

Details and image courtesy of nytimes.com  

 

View more information on LA Metro projects

 

 

Aging Boomers could Reshape Travel

Baby boomers started driving at a young age and became more mobile than any generation before or since. They practically invented the two-car family, escalating traffic congestion when women began commuting to work. There are currently 8,000 boomers turning 65 every day, and their retirements could once again reshape the national transportation scene.

How long those 74 million people born between 1946 and 1964 continue to work, whether they choose to live in their suburban houses after their children leave home, or whether they flock to city neighborhoods where they are less likely to need a car will have important ramifications across America.  This generation "has been the major driver of overall growth in travel in the United States and that has had a tremendous impact over the past 40 years in how we have approached transportation planning," said Jana Lynott, co-author of a new report by the AARP Public Policy Institute, an advocacy group for older Americans.

 

The report is an analysis of national surveys by the Federal Highway Administration of Americans' travel patterns since 1977. The most recent survey, conducted in 2009, included over 300,000 people in 150,000 households.  As a result of changes over the last four decades, the number of vehicles in the U.S. has nearly tripled, the report said, and total miles traveled has grown at more than twice the rate of population growth.  As boomers begin a new phase of life, their travel patterns and needs are expected to change and impact us again.

 

Details courtesy of AP via yahoo.com. 

 

 



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