Sic(k)Transit Tampa

Ever notice how often transportation is in the news around here? Within the last fortnight we’ve been reading and hearing about a possible HART takeover of the Downtowner shuttle, the need to get regional partners on board for the cross-bay ferry, grant-subsidizing, free-rides on the TECO Streetcar Line and a citizens group gathering signatures for a transit initiative.

Ever notice how little has changed while the rest of Tampa Bay reinvents and re-imagines how to keep pushing this otherwise fast-forwarding, major-metro market envelope of the 21st century?

Two takeaways:

* The streetcar has been an amenity for visitors, not a form of meaningful transit. It looks nostalgically cool, even with all the ads, and is prominent in convention pitches and network TV coverage of Tampa sports events.

But it was supposed to be much more by now. The streetcar movers and shakers always envisioned their project as a starter set for light rail mass transit. Not even close–but an extension to Tampa Heights could still happen as more people move downtown and more people start taking advantage of upcoming free fares, which could prove catalytic and habit-forming.

*Good luck to the citizens group, All for Transportation, that is now collecting signatures to get a sales tax initiative on the November 6 ballot that would raise billions for roads, bus expansion and, yes, light rail. Time is short–July 27–to get nearly 50,000 signatures. But Jeff Vinik is a key supporter, and he is the avatar of “can-do” around here. Plus, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a number of political leaders are supportive.

But the “Can’t Do” crowd remains the problem. It always has. The county’s GOP-leaning, no-tax-for-anything-especially-tracks crowd outnumbers more Democratic city residents. Absent a city-only referendum, the odds remain challenging–especially in an off-year election–to get a county-wide tax passed. The irony is that 600,000 new residents are projected to move here in the next 30 years–and they all won’t be moving to Water Street Tampa or The Heights.

We need a blue wave in November for all kinds of reasons.

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