Friday, February 23, 2018
Transportation

Leaders talk shuttle from downtown to Tampa airport

TAMPA — To Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, it's pretty simple: You should be able to hop on a shuttle that goes straight from downtown to the airport. The vehicle should have a place for your luggage, and maybe even Wi-Fi.

But in Tampa, this shuttle does not exist. If you don't want to take a taxicab, there's the Hills­borough Area Regional Transit authority's Route 30, which makes two stops between downtown and the airport, takes about 40 minutes and has no place to stow luggage.

Lopano hopes this is the year it changes. At a Thursday morning meeting of transit officials and Hillsborough leaders organized by County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe, Lopano implored the group to put together a concrete plan for a shuttle that starts this year.

"An express bus to the airport should not be something that requires a whole lot of analysis. This isn't a new idea," Lopano said. He cited an airport survey that showed 18 percent of the airport's 7 million annual outbound passengers would use a shuttle service if it existed.

"The reason I'm here today is my customers are asking for a bus. They don't want to pay for parking," he said. "Instead of me spending another $50 million to build another parking garage, why don't we come up with a new way to get people to the airport?"

Sharpe, County Administrator Mike Merrill and HART chief operation officer Katharine Eagan expressed optimism and set a goal to have a plan by the end of May to present.

Merrill and Eagan noted two potential hurdles: vehicles and money. The answers to both, they said, probably require getting businesses involved, possibly in helping procure the vehicles and in funding the service.

"All of these companies, all of these businesses are going to benefit," Merrill said. "Ante up."

Lopano said the airport could possibly chip in money, as well.

He said he has had a similar meeting with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority about starting a shuttle from downtown St. Petersburg to the airport.

Sharpe talked about the possibility of expanding the proposed shuttle to Brandon, and the potential use of robotic, driverless shuttles. A representative of INDUCT, a driverless shuttle company, participated in the meeting via video conference, but sat silent for most of it.

Merrill urged focus.

"We can't clutter this up with too much," he said. "Let's keep it simple."

Sharpe closed the meeting with a reference to one of his favorite movies, Apollo 13.

"We're going to do this," he said. "Failure is not an option."

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