TAMPA — When it comes to mass transit, a sparkling commuter train is the showhorse, but a reliable metro bus is the real workhorse.
The analogy, shared Tuesday with the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization by Dave Sobush of the Tampa Bay Partnership, underscored the results of the partnership’s recent study on improving job access via mass transit.
You want to help more people get to and from work? Build a better bus system.
The study, completed earlier this year in conjunction with the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota, found more frequent bus service — rather than new routes — would increase access to 26,000 jobs for a typical resident in Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Layering on incremental local improvements — like the extended street car service in Tampa, bus rapid transit route on Florida Avenue to connect the University of South Florida area to downtown and the SunRunner bus rapid transit in St. Petersburg — produced only minimal additional employment benefits. So, too, did the addition of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority’s planned tri-county bus rapid transit service.
A Cadillac mass transit system of passenger rail service on CSX lines, a South County ferry in Hillsborough and bus rapid transit would double the job access gains brought by simply improving bus service. That premium transit system, outlined in the 2030 vision plan of the regional transit authority, would increase access to 52,000 jobs for a typical resident.
“You see a big jump (from 26,000 to 52,000) but you should for what might be $6 billion or more worth of projects,” said Sobush, director of policy and research for the Tampa Bay Partnership.
He previously shared the study’s findings with the regional transit authority and with the directors of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, known by the acronym HART.
“We asked ourselves why are we doing this? The answer is it’s about getting people to jobs and having employers having access to labor forces,” Sobush told the transit authority in May.
The importance of a robust local bus system didn’t go unnoticed by Commissioner Pat Kemp who knocked heads with the transit authority over its planned bus rapid transit system connecting Wesley Chapel to Tampa and St. Petersburg. She has called it a duplication of services that the Hillsborough regional authority can provide.
“The bus is the workhorse of the system,” Kemp said.
The study used a 60-minute, one-way commute as its baseline for people to reach the 1.2 million jobs within the four-county region. It was intended as a follow-up to a 2011 study from the Brookings Institute’s “Missed Opportunity Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America” that ranked Tampa Bay 93rd out of the 100 largest metro areas in terms of people being able to access jobs within a 90-minute trip.
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Of the 20 markets considered economic competitors to Tampa Bay, such as South Florida, Jacksonville and Charlotte, the region ranks 15th in terms of job access, Sobush said. He called that a testament to the work of local bus agencies operating on limited resources.
Adding all the mass transit options in the regional transit authority’s 2030 premium plan would leave Tampa Bay ranked ninth.
“It shows you how far we have to go in Tampa Bay,” he said.