TAMPA — City Hall will hold the first of three public meetings on the future of the TECO Line Streetcar tonight with an eye on expanding and improving the service.
The streetcar should be used more than it is, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in announcing the forum, so, "We are taking a hard look at its future.
"A potential extension of the system through downtown could open up connections to new neighborhoods, jobs and entertainment," said Buckhorn, who, ironically, argued the trolley would be a poor use of taxpayer dollars and cast the lone vote against it when he was on the City Council in the 1990s.
But since then, much has changed, not the least being the $3 billion redevelopment project near Amalie Arena being planned by Strategic Property Partners, a joint effort of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment capital fund.
SPP has worked with the city on potential changes to the streetcar in the hope of seeing an expanded trolley line move workers, sports fans and residents around downtown.
In 2015, the city and the Florida Department of Transportation agreed to pay for a $1.6 million study of possible improvements.
Before the $53 million project began service, backers projected 500,000 riders a year. Last year, the trolley carried about 287,000 riders and had operating expenses of about $1.9 million.
For the first three months of the current budget year, ridership was nearly 12 percent above last year, though it was down in December. Saturdays are the streetcar's heaviest day, with an average of 2,330 riders, or more than three times the typical weekday.
The streetcar runs 2.7 miles between downtown Tampa, through the Channel District and into Ybor City, with 11 stops along the way.
The city's project, being called "Invision: Tampa Streetcar," will look at a range of corridors and equipment, including autonomous transit vehicles, and will recommend alternatives and possible funding. If an upgrade is seen to be doable — that decision should come by this summer — then local officials will start to consider a preferred alternative.
Tonight's meeting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St. Officials say its agenda is to brainstorm on the purpose of and need for the streetcar.
A second meeting to discuss technology and alignment alternatives is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 4, also at the history center.
A third and final meeting to discuss results of the effort will take place at 5:30 p.m. May 2 at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus at 2001 N 14th (Republica de Cuba) St.
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403.