Make us your home page

Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers transportation, breaking news and features in 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) 226-3401


Twitter: @cljohnst

  1. For 15 minutes on the road, UberPitch connects entrepreneurs, investors


    The entrepreneurs gathered their ideas, opened their Uber apps and fervently hoped to snag a ride with one of the 10 investors riding around Tampa Bay listening to 15-minute pitches Friday afternoon.

    St. Petersburg businesswoman Sherry Sacino waited anxiously throughout the three-hour window for an available car to appear on her screen. By 1:15 p.m., just 45 minutes before the event would end, she gave up hope and decided to grab lunch at the Tavern at Bayboro. She had just ordered her food when a notification flashed across her screen....

  2. HCC advisory council drops Pledge of Allegiance from meetings


    TAMPA — A Hillsborough Community College advisory council will no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance at its meetings — and the college isn't happy about it.

    The Institutional Advisory Council, made up of students, faculty and staff from six campuses, voted in September to drop the pledge from its meetings, according to their minutes.

    "A heated discussion ensued between the IAC about the Pledge of Allegiance and its appropriateness in an institution of higher learning which fosters academic freedom and structured dissent against authority," the minutes said. "Some members expressed views that the Pledge made some people uncomfortable and that it violated their beliefs in academic freedom and the goals of the IAC."...

  3. Hillsborough commissioners reach compromise on wage theft plan


    TAMPA — The Republican-controlled Hillsborough County Commission voted Wednesday to move forward with a plan to help victims of wage theft recover lost income through a hybrid model that stresses mediation.

    The plan — a compromise between models in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties — would rely on an administrative hearing process in state court to resolve contested claims. If mediation is unsuccessful, the county would provide claimants representation through Bay Area Legal Services, a nonprofit provider....

  4. Hillsborough County commissioners hold the line on transportation plan


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners halted their rapid retreat Wednesday from the wounded transportation initiative Go Hillsborough.

    The commission spent much of its morning session debating how to revive a countywide transportation plan that has fallen under intense scrutiny.

    In recent weeks, several commissioners had backed away from a proposed 30-year sales tax to fund transportation needs. But Wednesday, many took a stand and defended specific aspects of the effort: The information gathered through public outreach, the way that road and transit projects were identified and particularly the actions of County Administrator Mike Merrill....

    “This process has been extremely transparent and the outreach unprecedented,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said. “I will not allow this initiative to be hijacked by ridiculous claims of cronyism or impropriety.”
  5. Go Hillsborough transit plan tops county commission agenda


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioners will try today to figure out a way forward for the Go Hillsborough Initiative, the county's transportation plan that has come under heavy scrutiny and has commissioners waffling.

    Wage theft, lobbying and an internal audit of the Social Services Department are also on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting....

  6. U.S. Chamber: Raise the gas tax (emojis explain why)


    How much momentum is a hike in the gas tax getting? Turns out, one of the most reliably anti-tax organizations is now advocating for raising the gas tax. And it's doing so with everyone's favorite form of textual explainers: emojis.

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce posted a breakdown Monday of the issues plaguing the Highway Trust Fund, which is responsible for repairing and replacing roads, highways and bridges. ...

  7. Orlando's SunRail provides comparison for potential Tampa Bay commuter rail


    Commuter rail could become a reality in Tampa Bay in the not-so-distant future. Railroad giant CSX told Tampa Bay transit leaders last month that it's interested in selling two lines for passenger rail. And the lines — which span almost 100 miles — already connect three major downtowns and four counties. Check out our full story that ran in Monday's paper on this transit possibility....

    CSX is willing to sell two of its Tampa Bay freight lines for commuter service.
  8. CSX's offer finally opens the door to commuter rail in Tampa Bay

    Mass Transit

    There are 96 miles of railroad track connecting the downtowns of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa. The steel grating links Tampa International Airport to the University of South Florida, stretches across four counties and reaches as far north as Brooksville.

    Freight trains run on those tracks now. But they could, one day, form the spine of a passenger rail system that would finally connect Tampa Bay — and ease the region's dependence on roads....

    A CSX train leaves downtown Tampa. [Times]
  9. PTC calls for legal cease-fire with Uber, Lyft


    TAMPA — There may be a temporary cease-fire in the ongoing legal battle between local regulators and rideshare companies.

    Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist said the board's lawyers contacted Uber and Lyft to see if they're interested in a temporary postponement of all legal action until the end of next year's legislative session.

    "If we move forward with litigation and the Legislature goes in a different direction, we would have spent and wasted a lot of money and time," Crist said Thursday. "The reasonable, commonsense thing to do is wait a little while longer, see what direction the Legislature chooses to go, and then regroup and go from there."...

    The ongoing legal battle between Hillsborough County regulators and rideshare companies Uber and Lyft may temporarily pause until the end of next year’s legislative session.
  10. Hillsborough commissioners back measure regulating rideshare companies


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to support legislation that would allow rideshare companies to operate legally, ignoring a competing bill filed by a local senator.

    The legislation — authored by Public Transportation Commission chair and county Commissioner Victor Crist and sponsored by Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City — has four requirements for rideshares: Level II background checks that include fingerprinting, proper insurance, ADA compliance and annual vehicle inspections....

  11. Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway gets $2.4 million federal contract award for connected vehicle program


    TAMPA — Imagine driving downtown without hitting a red light, thanks to traffic-light synchronization. Or the brakes in a car activating when a pedestrian unexpectedly steps into the road. Or never having to worry about merging into a car hiding in the blind spot because the two vehicles were "talking to each other" and recognized the hazard before the drivers did.

    These are the type of advances that could be on the horizon, thanks to $2.4 million in federal funding that the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority landed for a connected-vehicle program....

    U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Tampa has a central role in the program.
  12. Hillsborough residents split on transportation sales tax

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough residents who have attended a series of public transportation meetings are split in their support for a full-cent sales tax.

    Two months after presenting a plan to county and city officials built around a half-cent 30-year sales tax, county staff and national consulting firm Parsons Brinckeroff are now asking residents to reconsider a full penny-on-the-dollar sales tax to fund Hillsborough's long list of transportation needs....

  13. USF conference addresses campus rape, heightened risks as school starts


    TAMPA — He talked as if he was the hunter and they were the prey.

    "You had to know your moment," the unidentified college male said in a documentary clip. "You had to have an instinct for it."

    He explained how he scoped out "targets:" freshmen women, often inexperienced with drinking. Anxious. New to campus. He plied them with alcohol and led them to an empty room.

    One woman was "so plastered" she didn't know what was going on. When she started to squirm, he pinned her down, his arm across her chest....

  14. USF conference on Title IX addresses campus rape, gender equity


    TAMPA — Experts from across the country will speak Thursday about campus rape and gender equity during a conference about Title IX at the University of South Florida.

    The conference — titled Title IX: Moving Toward Diversity & Equity — is aimed at educating professionals and community members about Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits federally funded education programs from discriminating on the basis of sex. It will start at 8:30 a.m. and run through 5:30 p.m....

  15. Hillsborough regulators will stop ticketing Uber, Lyft drivers until October hearing


    TAMPA — Local regulators extended an open hand to rideshare companies Uber and Lyft on Wednesday — and then balled up the other one, ready to keep fighting.

    The Public Transportation Commission's board voted to stop ticketing rideshare drivers through October while its ongoing legal battle with the companies makes its way through the courts.

    But in a second vote, the PTC also decided to ask state lawmakers to help it circumvent that legal fight by proposing a bill that would allow the agency to finally start regulating Uber and Lyft — just like it does other for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough County....

    Dawn Thomas, an Uber driver, listens to comments during a Hillsborough PTC meeting Wednesday. The agency voted to stop ticketing rideshare drivers through October.