Commissioner talks TBARTA’s future (or lack thereof)
Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long has a unique perspective on the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA), which, according to its website, is meant to “plan, develop, fund, implement and operate a regional transit system.”
However, many stakeholders throughout Tampa Bay believe the organization is not living up to its stated mission.
Long is one of them. She served in the Legislature when the state created the agency in 2007 and is a longtime board member. She is also a member of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s (TBRPC) executive committee and was previously a vocal proponent of merging the two organizations to create better transportation solutions for the region.
Long broached that idea in an Aug. 26 board meeting – TBARTA’s first since May – and said the TBRPC would discuss the item at its Sept. 12 executive committee meeting. Before then, however, TBARTA’s board members agreed to invite various stakeholders to an extensive Sept. 9 workshop to discuss the agency’s future.
“It was totally dysfunctional,” said Long.
She added that St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch “said it best” when he noted that the work session brought back memories of attending TBARTA’s first meeting as a county commissioner.
“The conversation we had at the collaborative lab reminded him of exactly the same conversation they had 20 years ago,” relayed Long. “It is functionally set up to fail.”
Since that meeting, the Pasco County Commission unanimously voted to withhold its $95,521 annual payment to TBARTA until January. Commissioners in Hernando County voted to withhold their $30,000 payment indefinitely.
The City of Tampa has diverted its funding to other transportation initiatives, and Long has expressed her apprehension with Pinellas County continuing to help fund the embattled organization.
Local actions mimicked those from Tallahassee, as the governor, for the third consecutive year, vetoed $1.375 million for TBARTA’s operating expenses from the state budget in June.
“I believe we could get more accomplished by working with the Regional Planning Council than we’re ever going to get done with TBARTA,” said Long. “I, as an elected official, have a responsibility to the citizens – and to me, it’s irresponsible to keep on giving our money to TBARTA.”
Long called TBARTA a planning agency without a planner. She said that organization does not operate or run anything, and its only planner quit over a month ago to work for the City of St. Petersburg.
TBARTA and the Regional Planning Council, she noted, encompass nearly identical areas, and she believes that the latter should hire a transportation planner to complete that work. “We (TBRPC) don’t have any problem, at all, reaching a consensus on our board,” Long added.
While she previously hoped for TBARTA to work under the TBRPC’s purview, Long said she pulled the item from the executive committee’s agenda due to the dysfunction displayed at the TBARTA workshop. She said a lack of willing and open-minded partners left little chance for success.
Long relayed that the Regional Planning Council conducted its first transportation study in 1972, and 50 years later, she said officials are still talking without creating much-needed solutions.
“Clearly, this region has grown to a place where we need really good public transit options,” said Long. “But we’re almost 50 years behind the times because in Pinellas County, for example, we’re totally developed – and our focus in Pinellas is on redevelopment. We cannot build our way out of congestion with roads.”
October 7, 2022at8:17 am
The collapse of TBARTA shows that there is no immediate future for regional mass transit in the Bay area as envisioned these many years. The election of Brian Scott to the Pinellas County Commission and the re-creation of the historic Republican majority will inject some fresh, private business ideas into the discussion. We need ’em.