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Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers transportation, breaking news and features in eastern Hillsborough County. She is a graduate of Indiana University, with her master's from the University of Maryland.

She's always looking for story ideas.

Phone: (813) 661-2443


Twitter: @cljohnst

  1. Two remain hospitalized after Bucs lightning strike (w/ 911 calls)


    TAMPA — Two of the seven people injured by a lightning strike after Sunday's Buccaneers game remain hospitalized, one in critical condition and the other with non-life threatening injuries, officials said Monday.

    All of the victims were taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa after lightning struck an SUV in parking lot 14 of Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Fire Rescue said.

    Five were treated and released Sunday night, hospital spokeswoman Nancy Gay said....

  2. Hillsborough commissioners approve nearly 20 percent raise for county administrator


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously approved a nearly 20 percent raise for County Administrator Mike Merrill on Wednesday, bringing his salary to $260,000.

    Merrill's contract was not set to expire until December 2015, but commissioners, who issued rave reviews about the administrator, did not want to wait and risk losing him to a better offer.

    "I am humbled and really appreciative," Merrill said after the vote. "I wasn't expecting this, so thank you very much."...

    Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill needs a web-only caption, please. [Times files (2011)]
  3. Taxi drivers: First ride-shares, now limos compete for same riders


    TAMPA — Life as a taxi driver wasn't always this hard.

    John Bailey, a driver with 28 years of experience, recalls years where he could work the busy season from Jan. 1 to Easter and take off the summer months to spend time with his kids in Ohio.

    Now, as his market continues to shrink, Bailey and other drivers are looking to unionize in hopes of increasing their influence with regulators who they say aren't making moves to protect the individual drivers....

  4. Amid changing industry, Hillsborough taxi drivers look to unionize


    TAMPA — Many Hillsborough County cabdrivers are looking to unionize in hopes of having more sway with local regulators over disputes with ride-share companies and the sale of taxi permits.

    Drivers could have a fully operational union by the beginning of next year, said Afifa Khaliq, spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union's public sector branch in Florida.

    The labor union has been meeting with local taxi drivers for about four months to organize a united front, said its chief of staff, Rick Smith. Smith said he and several local drivers plan to speak during the public comment period of this morning's Public Transportation Commission meeting....

    Most Hillsborough taxi drivers are considered independent contractors and not employees of cab companies. They don’t need to hold a vote to join the union and can do so voluntarily.
  5. Newland Communities' revised transportation plan doesn't include I-75 ramp


    Some south Hillsborough residents are fuming over a developer's request to drop its contribution to an Interstate 75 southbound exit ramp that would provide relief to a congested area.

    Newland Communities said its revised transportation plan is possible because of a legislative change three years ago that allows developers to avoid helping to pay for existing problems.

    Developers throughout Florida are benefiting from the change in how proportionate shares — the amount developers are required to contribute to improvements — are calculated, while counties are searching for ways to fund transportation projects with significantly smaller financial contributions from developers....

  6. Hillsborough commissioners move forward on amateur sports complex


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County is moving ahead with plans to build an amateur multisport complex, a $15 million project commissioners hope will increase tourism and act as an economic boon for the area.

    Commissioner Ken Hagan brought the proposal before the county commission Wednesday, citing a need for a facility with 16 or more multipurpose fields that would target soccer, football and lacrosse. He said the county's lack of such a complex has caused leagues to pass over Tampa in favor of other cities than can host large tournaments....

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan says the plan to build an amateur sports complex would boost the economy.
  7. Tampa's Carver City residents lament I-275 widening


    TAMPA — The expansion of Interstate 275 aims to make the daily commute more manageable for motorists, but residents who live along the newly constructed off-ramp at Cypress Street say it's making life unbearable.

    Noise pollution. Right-of-way infringement. Carbon monoxide exposure. Who would want to live by all that, Norman Wright wondered. His house, at the end of W Grace Street in the Carver City neighborhood, juts against the new bike path and off-ramp....

  8. HART to put its finances online

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough's transit agency voted Monday to move a large amount of its financial information online in an effort to show the public the board is spending its dwindling money in a responsible manner.

    The move goes beyond posting the budgets required by the state. It includes expenditures, monthly financial reports, vendor information, payroll, wire transactions and more.

    Finances have been tight for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, and its proposed 2015 budget shows a projected shortfall of $1.7 million in 2017. But spokeswoman Sandra Morrison said those numbers are for illustrative purposes and often act as a catalyst for finding increased revenue sources. The projected shortfalls can also be mitigated through continued cost reductions and tweaking of expansion of nonpeak service....

  9. Tampa Bay Young Republicans take a side: For Lyft and Uber; against PTC


    The Tampa Bay Young Republicans group is the latest group to take sides in Hillsborough County's ongoing dispute over ride-sharing.

    The organization, comprised of conservative young professionals ages 18 to 40, voted Nov. 25 to support ride-sharing businesses such as Uber and Lyft.

    The two companies, which use smartphone apps to connect passengers with drivers who use their own cars, have been operating here since April. The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles such as taxis and limousines, says the companies are illegal and do not have the proper licensing and certification....

  10. Wet weather could make Thanksgiving travel messy


    TAMPA — Some 100,000 more Floridians are expected to travel for Thanksgiving this year, but reaching those turkey dinners could be complicated by heavy rain throughout the state and projected snowstorms up North.

    According to AAA, only 172,500 of Florida's 2.3 million Thanksgiving travelers choose to fly for the holiday, spokesman Mark Jenkins said. That means the vast majority of people will take to the roads to see their friends and loved ones. ...

    Drivers planning on leaving Tampa Tuesday afternoon and evening should be wary, as there is a 90 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms in the area. [SKIP O'ROURKE | Times]
  11. Regulators affirm ruling that Uber functions as taxi company


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission affirmed Wednesday that ride-share outfit Uber largely functions as a taxi cab company and is subject to regulations on permits and licensing.

    Wednesday's hearing was part of an ongoing appeal process for five tickets that inspectors issued to the ride-share company for two types of citations: operating a for-hire service without a proper permit, and allowing or causing drivers to operate a public for-hire vehicle without the proper driver's license....

  12. Transit backers consider coordinating across counties in 2016

    Mass Transit

    Hillsborough County tried to pass a transit tax four years ago and failed. Similar efforts in Pinellas and Polk counties crashed even harder last week. Could they try again at the same time and succeed together?

    Transit advocates on both sides of the bay say it's a question worth considering.

    Tuesday's defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas ballot measure and Polk's My Ride/My Road referendum sets up a possible scenario in which all three counties try to pass transit taxes two years from now. Hillsborough leaders have been laying the groundwork for a proposed 2016 referendum asking for a 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for a combination of road construction and bus service....

  13. Will and grace key to successful Pig Jig

    Human Interest


    Two weeks before his 25th birthday, newly earned master's degree in hand and eager to depart for a one-year program in Kenya, Will Wellman seemed invincible.

    Active and vibrant, he was on the cusp of building a life for himself and seeing what the world had to offer. But his body had other plans. Within a one-month period, Wellman went from experiencing intense stomach pain to being diagnosed with minimal change disease, a kidney disorder. Over the course of nine months, that disease would transform into a rare, incurable kidney disease known as FSGS. ...

    Will Wellman, 31, hangs out at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in Tampa, where the Pig Jig on the River will be held Saturday.
  14. Hillsborough leaders set to pursue transit tax vote, despite defeats elsewhere

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County leaders are determined to soldier on with their own tax-for-transportation referendum, but failed efforts to pass similar measures Tuesday in Pinellas and Polk counties are raising questions about how and when.

    For months, some have challenged whether 2016 would be the right year to hold the vote, and others have debated just how specific the wording on the ballot should be....

  15. HART gives interim CEO the job permanently


    TAMPA — With big changes in store for Hillsborough County's bus system if voters agree in a few years to a higher sales tax for transportation, directors voted Monday to make the agency's interim leader a permanent one.

    Officials will now negotiate a contract with Katharine Eagan, 41, who earned about $163,000 a year as interim CEO of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority. Directors voted to approve Eagan without conducting a national search and evaluating outside options....

    Katharine Eagan is named the CEO of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit.