Connect Tampa Bay, a burgeoning grass roots effort formed by a small but growing group of young professionals eager to promote a viable regional mass transit system, is an encouraging sign that a new generation is interested in shaping public policy. Tampa Bay remains the last major metropolitan area in the nation without a comprehensive mass transit system either in place or at least in the planning stages. Connect Tampa Bay wants to change that, and its members are challenging old attitudes about transit that have resulted in too many traffic jams.
An outgrowth of a failed 2010 Hillsborough County ballot initiative to create a light rail system, Connect Tampa Bay was formed by Brian Willis, 29; Brandie Miklus, 31; Kevin Thurman, 32; and Brian Seel, 28, the son of Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel. The ballot effort suffered from a lack of details over the rail portion of the package. Connect Tampa Bay plans to begin an aggressive education effort for Pinellas by organizing wide-ranging neighborhood meetings to build broad-based public support for more bus routes linked to a light-rail system.
The timing may be right for Connect Tampa Bay. Since the 2010 election, recent polling indicates a shift in attitudes, with 56 percent of Hillsborough County residents supporting light rail. And in Pinellas County, where citizens likely will have an opportunity in November 2014 to vote on transit plan, 60 percent of residents surveyed supported rail.
Thriving communities have robust civic engagement. Connect Tampa Bay fills an important void and should be an example for younger residents who want to help shape the future of the region instead of leaving the decisions to their elders.