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Tampa Port Authority votes to delay trolley subsidy

TP_333948_WALL_streetcar_1 (02/01/2011 Tampa) LEDE: Conductor Joe Del Vecchio (CQ) welcomes passengers on the new extension of the TECO Streetcar Line at the Whiting Street station, which is colorfully lit in the backround. On Monday officials celebrated the grand opening of the station, which started operating in Dec. The $5.3 million project was funded mostly by federal funds, and links downtown Tampa to residential areas, restaurants, hotels and entertainment. The one-third mile extension makes the entire line 2.7 miles long with an eleventh station at Whiting Street.  [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]
TP_333948_WALL_streetcar_1 (02/01/2011 Tampa) LEDE: Conductor Joe Del Vecchio (CQ) welcomes passengers on the new extension of the TECO Streetcar Line at the Whiting Street station, which is colorfully lit in the backround. On Monday officials celebrated the grand opening of the station, which started operating in Dec. The $5.3 million project was funded mostly by federal funds, and links downtown Tampa to residential areas, restaurants, hotels and entertainment. The one-third mile extension makes the entire line 2.7 miles long with an eleventh station at Whiting Street. [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]
Published Oct. 21, 2014

TAMPA — The Tampa Port Authority voted Tuesday to delay paying a six-figure subsidy to the city's struggling trolley until its nonprofit operator, Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., shows the board a new business plan to turn around the streetcar system.

The streetcar's current $1.6 million operating budget is not dependent on port funding. The port gave the trolley $100,000 in 2012.

But this time Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board, wants the streetcar's board to hire a consultant to look at ways to improve its operations before she votes to give it any more money. She also wants the streetcar people to work with the port as it develops a master plan for its downtown holdings in the Channel District and the Channelside Bay Plaza outdoor mall.

"I think it's time for an expert to tell us how to do this," Murman said.

The trolley suffers from low ridership and low revenue, limiting the cars to 20 minutes between stops. But transit times can't be improved until the streetcar gets better funding, a conundrum local officials have yet to solve.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn agreed with Murman but also told the board it can't give up on the trolley yet.

For one thing, the area is still on the hook for the federal subsidy that helped build the trolley line. If the trolley were to fold, the city and the county bus authority would have to repay millions of dollars. Buckhorn also pointed out that the trolley's fortunes should improve as downtown Tampa does. The mayor said Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's recent purchase of Channelside, his plans to develop 24 empty acres around the Amalie Arena, his bid to bring the University of South Florida's new medical school to his land, and several new residential construction projects all promise to radically redevelop downtown Tampa.

They need to keep the trolley going, the mayor said, because one day downtown will be able to support it.

"Whether it works now or not is really not important," Buckhorn said, "in context of what's coming."

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