Monday, December 18, 2017
Politics

Light rail helps Charlotte avoid Tampa's bus woes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Artellia Burch isn't so sure she would have braved the traffic to attend Monday's street festival that helped launch the Democratic National Convention.

The area surrounding the convention was packed with residents, visiting journalists and delegates and would have been difficult to reach by car because of parking headaches and congestion, said the 39-year-old supporter of President Barack Obama.

So Burch didn't drive.

Instead, she was one of the 33,000 passengers who rode LYNX, a 10-mile stretch of light rail that opened in 2007 after voters here approved a sales tax — the same tax that Hillsborough County residents rejected two years ago on a wave of tea party opposition.

The two diverging paths taken by the cities has become ever more apparent these last two weeks as they have hosted the coronation parties of the Republicans and Democrats, the largest special events either city has ever hosted.

While Republicans last week relied on private charter buses to shuttle delegates around the sprawling landscape of Tampa, the Democrats will partly rely on rail to lighten the traffic load.

Rail has already provided a lift. On Monday, Burch and others boosted ridership on LYNX by 148 percent over a typical weekday. Part of that was because of the Labor Day holiday, but regardless, it still means that many more cars were off the road.

On Tuesday afternoon, a LYNX passenger car was jammed with delegates and guests of the DNC as they returned to their hotel rooms.

"Why can't we have something like this in Tampa?" asked Sarah Meachen, a 65-year-old Obama volunteer who lives in Tampa Palms.

Meachen was here with her friend Andrea Braboy, who is 62 and also volunteers for Obama. They rode the LYNX line to their Arlington Suites hotel room, which was about 8 miles from the Charlotte Convention Center.

"Compared to this, getting around in Tampa was impossible," Braboy said.

Their ride on Lynx took less than 10 minutes, plus they didn't have to worry about driving in a city they didn't know, they said.

By comparison, they found traveling to the RNC in their hometown daunting. Braboy marched outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum in support of abortion rights during the last two days of the convention.

To get there from her South Tampa job took about 40 minutes. Much of that was to find parking and to walk to the event.

"Why should it take that long?" Braboy said. "It's so much easier here."

Charlotte's 10-mile line cost $462.7 million to build, of which, the federal government paid half. It costs $2 to ride, and $4 for a round trip. An all-day pass costs $8.

It's too early to tell how much LYNX will help. But it seems like the Democrats are using fewer buses to move more delegates.

About 250 buses will be used to move nearly 6,000 delegates to DNC events. In Tampa, 400 buses were used to ferry 2,200 delegates, a plan that was later deemed insufficient after several buses were late for several state delegations, including New Jersey, Utah and Florida.

Some delegates missed part of the convention or were returned to their hotel rooms after 3 a.m. Florida Republicans had to hire more buses to cope.

Even with those mishaps, Republicans like Thomas Hogan, a state committeeman from Brooksville, said there are too many unknowns that accompany rail, and he still favors getting around in buses.

"For something like a convention, the mode of travel should be buses," Hogan said. "Now, they made a lot of mistakes in Tampa, but they got them straightened out and the last two days, we didn't have a problem. Rail has too many variables: Where would it be? How far would we walk? I just don't think it would work."

Skepticism like that helped defeat light rail in 2010 in Hillsborough County, which dashed the hopes of former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who had pushed for it. (Tampa's system would not have been ready for the RNC even if voters had approved the plan in 2010.)

"All big cities have adequate mass transit," Iorio said. "It's the one deficiency that we have. It shows up when we have big events, and it shows up in our daily lives. If we had it for the convention, my guess is, light rail would have connected major activity centers together. People would have used it."

As Monday and Tuesday proved, that holds true in Charlotte, which this summer got federal approval to expand its rail line, making it double in size by 2017.

"Charlotte is light years ahead of Tampa," Meachen said. "We're not even close. I think I want to move here."

Comments
National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

WASHINGTON — A new U.S. national security strategy plan presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States, Trump administration officials said Sunday.President Don...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller even as his administration was again forced to grapple with the growing Russia inquiry that has shadowed the White House for much of his ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Published: 12/16/17
Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of ...
Published: 12/16/17
CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.Polic...
Published: 12/16/17
Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

A Democratic candidate hoping to flip a hotly contested congressional seat in Kansas has dropped out of the race after allegations that she sexually harassed a male subordinate resurfaced amid her campaign.Andrea Ramsey, 57, who was running to unseat...
Published: 12/16/17
Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have blended separate tax bills passed by the House and Senate into compromise legislation that seeks to achieve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code. GOP leaders are looking toward passage of the final pa...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers on Friday secured enough votes to pass the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades, putting them on the cusp of their first significant legislative victory this year as party leaders geared up to pass a $1.5 trillion t...
Published: 12/15/17
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.That’s the messa...
Published: 12/15/17
Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat stepped back Friday from his offer of unconditional talks with North Korea, telling world powers that the nuclear-armed nation must earn the right to negotiate with the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillers...
Published: 12/15/17