Tampa’s Trolley: A Streetcar Named Scapegoat

Last week’s unprecedented gathering of the boards of HARTline and Tampa Historic Streetcar was most notable for what it didn’t do. It didn’t make any radical changes.

That means the 2.4-mile TECO Line Streetcar System will still be operated by HARTline – not transferred to the private sector. That became a foregone conclusion – to almost all in attendance — once it became apparent that it wasn’t practicable for HARTline to just farm out its operational obligations – given its maintenance commitments.

What was reinforced, however, was the philosophical divide that continues to fester between the county and the city. The Streetcar Named Scapegoat is the perfect foil.

Because of its eroding endowment and non-commuter patronage, the streetcar is an easy target. For perversely populist politicians as well as carping columnists.

Would that it were viable mass transit – not just an economic development tool valued by Channel District developers, convention planners and visitors. It is what it is right now: an urban design amenity. It’s not a novel concept. Nor is its substantial underwriting by federal and state grants aimed at internal-combustion alternatives.

And as downtown and the Channel District ratchet up their residential components, and traffic in the core commensurately increases, the streetcar’s role should evolve in importance – and eventual expansion.

But that is then and this is now, and endowment shrinkage is a legitimate concern.

Perhaps the next time the boards of HARTline and THS meet, a consensus will result on how best to boost revenues. For openers, they should look to those who benefit most. The time for residential property assessments can’t be deferred much longer. And the time for the business community to step up with more sponsorships and advertising is yesterday.

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