Thursday, February 22, 2018
Business

Tampa International Airport CEO proposes airport-downtown express bus

TAMPA — In his never-ending quest to boost Tampa International Airport, CEO Joe Lopano has proposed an idea to make things easier for business travelers: How about creating a nonstop express bus route from the airport straight to downtown Tampa?

No stops. No waiting. No hassle.

It's all about improving customer service, said Lopano, who was hired in 2010 to increase passenger traffic, international flights and airport revenue.

"I'm just going by intuition," Lopano said. "There's a convention center downtown. There's a whole lot of hotel rooms downtown. The only way people can fly into a convention here is to go through downtown.

"Without having a whole lot of data, I think it's something we should be looking at to see if it makes any sense."

Lopano broached the idea Monday at a meeting of the board that governs the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, or HART. The agency's CEO, Philip Hale, said that proposal and other transit issues will be considered at a wide-ranging transportation workshop to be held in the next month or two.

Those issues will include looking for ways to grow HART's services in cooperation with other Hillsborough agencies and increase the agency's funding sources, said spokeswoman Marcia Mejia.

The downtown-airport bus route would primarily serve businesspeople, Lopano said, giving them a quick and easy way to get off their plane and head straight downtown, perhaps to their hotel or the Tampa Convention Center.

A taxi ride from the airport to downtown costs between $16 and $20, depending on the cab company.

The bus route would be "just another option for our citizens," Lopano said. "I think we should take a look at all other opportunities.

"This is not a new idea. This happens every day in other cities."

But which entity — the airport or HART — would pay for the bus route? Both face institutional hurdles.

Federal guidelines determine what the airport can spend money on. It's unclear if the airport could fund a bus route. HART funds bus routes based on ridership and demand. How much demand would there be for a downtown-airport bus?

There's already a bus that connects the airport to downtown — but it's not a ride visitors are likely to enjoy. It's a regular route that starts in Westchase and has repeated stops, including the airport and downtown, along the way.

"We're willing to work with any one of our partners to offer these types of services," Mejia said. "We just have to develop a funding strategy to do so."

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