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  1. Transportation

Even transit leaders don't rely on their own buses

Buses are seen at the Marion Transit Center located at 1211 N Marion Street Thursday, July 13, 2017 in Tampa. The transit center is part of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority system. [Alessandra Da Pra | Times]

Published Jul. 21, 2017

The debate over if and how to expand Tampa Bay's transit system has dominated civic discussions for decades.

The region's bus system lags behind almost every other major city when it comes to frequency, spending and access to jobs.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here's why.

PSTA chief rides the bus, gets an earful of feedback

While politicians hold the purse strings, it's those on the transit agencies' boards who dictate how the systems operate.

Board members for the two counties' agencies — Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority — are a mix of elected officials and community members.

None of them rely on the bus for work, errands or their personal life.

This isn't unique to Tampa Bay, or transit. Many boards are composed of people who don't use the service they help provide. But in a region roiled by transportation problems, it's worth knowing who sits on these boards and what philosophies they bring to the conversation.

We called all 28 board members to learn more about their individual experience with transit. Three did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Half a dozen people said they try to ride the bus monthly. Others take transit here once or twice a year, while three board members have never used the service provided by the agency they help run.

Here's a sampling of the reasons why even those who decide our transit agencies' futures don't ride the bus.

HART

Stacy White

"I am automobile person. I really have no apologies, for lack of a better term, that I haven't ridden a HART bus. I don't feel like I need to be on a HART bus on a regular basis to be an effective HART board member."

"You could have a board of directors for Nike that don't wear the shoes, but they'd all have the knowledge and understanding to listen to the constituents or users."

"I know it's a terrible system. Frankly, I don't think (riding the bus) is a necessary component of understanding how inadequate it is."

HART

Pat Kemp

"I would like to ride transit more if I wasn't so busy working on the transit issue. ... It's not very amenable to my kind of schedule. I'm not an 8-to-5 in one place type of person."

"There's no way you can do it. For office workers who have set hours and set places, it works very well…I have to have a vehicle."

"I'm in and out of the office all the time, so it would be really inconvenient for me to use the bus system."

PSTA

Dave Eggers

"Does that effect the decisions I make or try to make for HART to make it better for people to ride the bus? No."

"It just doesn't work for me economically. I can take my own vehicle, which gives me the ability to go to spontaneous meetings without those constraints."

PSTA

Samantha Fenger

"I haven't had to use it because of how convenient my location is. But I think riding the 300x has given me enough experience to understand the system very well."

"It's just not efficient for me. To understand why I can't ride is just as valuable to me."

"My business is buses. I think I have a better understanding of how buses work since that's what I do."

"I know it sounds terrible. I'll use the, 'I'm new' card…Shame on us that we're not riding the bus, for whatever our excuse is

"As board members, most of our information is gleaned from staff. I like to have experiences to either back that up or to be able to ask questions, because I only get rosy pictures when I'm in the HART board meeting."

HART

Karen Jaroch

"I live on Davis Island and they have all but discontinued most of the bus service, except to Tampa General Hospital."

"If you're in a position to make decisions you really need to understand things."

"I would agree to a riding requirement, and a report to the director re: the experience."

"You should always be familiar with what your area of jurisdiction is…But having the expectation that every member of the HART board is going to ride the bus every day to and from their meetings, I don't think it should be an expectation of service."

"I don't think that there's any harm in not using the bus. Most of us are very busy."

HART

Mickey Jacob

"If we're going to be presiding over public transportation, I should be familiar with how it works. When you ride the bus, you see how people really use it."

"My biggest drawback is not the system itself, it's the types of meetings I have when I'm bouncing all around the city. It makes it tough to coordinate and get it all done."

"I want them to understand how to use it before they're asking to be dropped off all kinds of places."

PSTA

Josh Shulman

"We're more in the route system than we were at our old house. So far we've ridden it four times to events downtown."

"It's a way for me to check and see if things are going well. That's when I see the timeliness, if the wifi is on, check how many people are on."

"Everybody needs to get out there and see how things are working. That's important."

PSTA

Bill Jonson

Inspired by PSTA executive director Brad Miller's decision to ride the bus for a month in June, Jonson upped his ridership to three to five times a week, including meetings, doctor's appointments and the mall.

"I learned some more things that I did not know from my previous bus rides…and I think I'm a better board member for that."

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Pinellas Park City Council member Patricia Johnson and HART board member Bryan Crino did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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