Transportation is a regional issue that requires regional solutions. Although many projects serve local needs, thousands of us who live and work in Tampa Bay cross geographic boundaries regularly, and we need a transportation system that does too.
With this in mind, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) recently studied the possibility of merging or consolidating their organizations, and this has created tension on the part of board members and apparent concern about whether and how the two agencies should join forces. This is threatening progress on important work these agencies can and must accomplish with or without a merger. We should not get bogged down debating whose jobs might be eliminated or who should end up in charge if the agencies merge. Whatever comes of these studies, HART and PSTA should address what the two agencies can undertake to do together right now to begin to build a more robust regional transportation system.
HART and PSTA currently cooperate in many ways as two separate agencies. For example, PSTA and HART save money by combining their buying power to purchase diesel fuel. They also share fuel market analysis information and collaborate on the best timing to buy fuel contracts. They participate in a statewide consortium of transit systems to purchase new buses. They work together to bid for bulk purchases of servicing for back-up generators, maintenance fluids and other maintenance items. HART staff members familiar with "flex route" operations in Hillsborough County trained and advised PSTA staff charged with implementing new flex routes in Pinellas County. PSTA and HART jointly offer the "Passport" bus pass that allows unlimited rides on either system. PSTA has joined HART, Pasco County and Lakeland transit systems to explore advanced technologies and methods for future transit fare payment in the region, including the use of smartphones or smart-card technology. Finally, a HART Board member participated on the oversight committee for the now-completed Pinellas Alternatives Analysis. But they can do more.
The agencies should make lists of projects of regional significance they want to tackle, compare lists, identify areas of overlap, and work together to complete projects they agree must be addressed. They already have ample tools to do this, including the availability of binding interlocal agreements. In this way, they can get some easy "wins" under their belts and then build on this success to tackle bigger projects.
This would send the right message to all of us in Tampa Bay who want to know that our public officials are working collaboratively to meet our needs, not defending their turf. This would also communicate to our elected representatives when we need their help that we can speak with one voice in asking for that help. Last but not least, this would tell businesses we are trying to recruit or retain that we can get things done in Tampa Bay and that we are working together to build a great future.
Pretty soon, nobody will be quite so concerned whether we need to be consolidating functions and eliminating jobs in either agency.
Gary L. Sasso is president and CEO of Carlton Fields and chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership's Transportation Task Force. Barry Alpert is managing director, investment banking with Raymond James Financial Inc. and serves as vice chair of the Partnership's Transportation Task Force.