Friday, June 22, 2018
Transportation

Tampa's history and its future: Bullfights, trolleys and lessons learned

I wanted to get Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to take a ride with me on the city's beleaguered streetcar — maybe talk boondoggles we both have known — but who has time for that?

In truth, the street car isn't all that convenient.

It comes only every 20 minutes.

It's expensive.

Oh, and did I mention it's also really charming?

So there's your streetcar dilemma: what to do with the struggling trolley line Tampa finds itself both struck and graced with.

Years back, with downtown growing up and adding Channelside, an aquarium, a hockey arena, hotels and such, some people thought it was a great time for an old-school electric trolley to be reborn, the likes of which were last seen here in the 1940s.

It would be nostalgic! It would whisk tourists to Ybor City! It would make money selling naming rights! (Unless, of course, strip club owner Joe Redner stepped up with cash in hand to name a trolley stop for his world-famous Mons Venus club, which was declined.)

A notable naysayer 15 years ago was Buckhorn himself, then a city councilman and the lone no-vote. "People," he said then, "aren't going to come to Tampa to ride a streetcar."

(Historical trivia: Lest you think a streetcar was our wackiest idea for attracting visitors to something uniquely Tampa-esque, I have two words for you: bloodless bullfighting. True story: In the 1970s, a law passed that would allow for plans for "non-lethal" bullfights in Ybor City. The anti-cruelty opposition crescendoed, however, when, at a related event in Bradenton, a bull escaped and was shot dead by police. Then-Mayor Dick Greco told me this week he learned a valuable political lesson back then: "You don't want to mess with the Humane Society.")

Fast-forward and here we are in a pinch over the future of our streetcar, a cool amenity not used nearly enough, and one we literally can't afford to lose.

The streetcars do make a nice picture, particularly when there's a big downtown event and the yellow cars fill with people and go clanging and swaying down the tracks along the brick streets of Ybor.

But marketing has been anemic and uninspired. Ridership this year is projected to be down 27 percent from 2009 and an endowment is nearly tapped. The streetcar doesn't run most days until noon and is infrequent enough to make it not much use to the downtown crowd. The standard $2.50 one-way fare helping to keep it alive is too much, even for a tourist jumping on for the novelty of it.

Dump it, you say? That could leave us having to reimburse the federal government up to $40 million, Buckhorn says. Not a great option.

So what's a mayor to do? You can disagree with Buckhorn on, say, downtown security cameras watching our every move, but on this one, he struck the right note: Save the trolley, because we have to.

This week, the mayor stepped up to convince the port authority board to continue a $100,000 subsidy for the streetcar. He wants fresh blood and invested voices on the streetcar board. And since it will never pay for itself, why not make it free and frequent, an easy attraction for the city?

Can Tampa's charming, endangered trolley be saved?

I know this much: A ride on our streetcar beats a bloodless bullfight any day.

Comments
SunPass charges will soon be showing up again on customer accounts — without late fees

SunPass charges will soon be showing up again on customer accounts — without late fees

It has been more than two weeks since SunPass customers have been able to access their accounts after the Florida toll service took down its website for system maintenance.While SunPass continues to accumulate toll charges since the maintenance perio...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Petition language reveals details of Hillsborough sales tax transportation initiative

Petition language reveals details of Hillsborough sales tax transportation initiative

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections on Friday approved petition language that will let a new group of transportation advocates begin gathering the 48,000 signatures they need to get a sales tax initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.All ...
Published: 06/15/18
Carlton: A trolley instead of a boondoggle? About time, Tampa

Carlton: A trolley instead of a boondoggle? About time, Tampa

You could rightly call the vintage streetcars that trundle between downtown Tampa and Ybor City big, beautiful boondoggles.Charming?Yes. An integral part of this city’s unique history?Absolutely.And in their current incarnation, overpriced, inefficie...
Published: 06/15/18
Federal judge halts work on Suncoast 2 toll road

Federal judge halts work on Suncoast 2 toll road

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody, Jr. granted a temporary restraining order on Thursday to halt the work that has already begun on the extension of the Suncoast Parkway — aka the controversial "Suncoast 2."The toll road now ends at U.S. 98 at the n...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Hillsborough group pushing new referendum on raising sales tax for transportation

Hillsborough group pushing new referendum on raising sales tax for transportation

TAMPA — In 2010, Hillsborough voters soundly rejected a 1 cent sales tax hike backed by their elected leaders to raise billions of dollars for roads, bus expansion and light rail. In 2016, county commissioners helped develop a new transportation plan...
Published: 06/14/18
SunPass apologizes to customers who couldn’t access accounts after website maintenance

SunPass apologizes to customers who couldn’t access accounts after website maintenance

Users were unable to access their SunPass accounts on Monday after the release of a system redesign that took the system’s web site, app and hotlines down for a week.From June 5-11, the SunPass website, hotlines and mobile app were taken down for sys...
Published: 06/14/18
Elon Musk to build 125 mph underground transit line serving Chicago O’Hare

Elon Musk to build 125 mph underground transit line serving Chicago O’Hare

Elon Musk has taken on a task perhaps more challenging than launching rockets into space: getting passengers from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the Loop in 12 minutes, roughly three to four times as fast as the current taxi journey.The plan for the "Ch...
Published: 06/14/18
This trooper pulled over a driver - then realized the man had delivered him nearly 27 years ago

This trooper pulled over a driver - then realized the man had delivered him nearly 27 years ago

New Jersey state trooper Michael Patterson was on patrol recently when he pulled over a white BMW for a routine traffic stop.He asked the driver for his license and registration, and the two started making small talk. It turned out that the driver, M...
Published: 06/13/18
Fares eliminated on downtown Tampa trolley following FDOT grant

Fares eliminated on downtown Tampa trolley following FDOT grant

TAMPA — Fares on the TECO Line Streetcar in downtown Tampa will be eliminated for three years following a grant funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.The grant provide $2.67 million to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, allowing it to t...
Published: 06/12/18
Tampa road work forces office workers to wait up to an hour to get out of their parking garage every day

Tampa road work forces office workers to wait up to an hour to get out of their parking garage every day

TAMPA — At 42 floors tall, the largest office building on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers some spectacular views.But good luck getting out of it.Since the start of a $5.7 million street resurfacing project late last year on Kennedy Boulevard and Jackson ...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18