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  1. Opinion

Mass transit in Tampa Bay is still off the rails

Here’s what readers are saying in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
Les Miller, Hillsborough County commissioner and chairman of the county's transit agency board, made the motion to fire chief executive officer Ben Limmer during a special meeting. Only one board member voted no. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
Les Miller, Hillsborough County commissioner and chairman of the county's transit agency board, made the motion to fire chief executive officer Ben Limmer during a special meeting. Only one board member voted no. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
Published Feb. 14

Mass transit is off the rails

Transit tie-ups | Editorial, Feb. 10

The CEO of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is fired for eight violations of policy, not even a year after his hiring. A committee meeting held by the same transit agency devolved into childish finger-pointing. And two disparate transit agencies in an urban area of 3 million have no cohesive plan for the future. Such is the state of Tampa Bay public transit in 2020.

Nearly three years ago to the day this paper published a thorough report on the state of transit in Tampa Bay and found that, among other things, Tampa Bay spends as much money on transit as Buffalo, N.Y., which has nearly half our region’s population. Former HART board member Steven Polzin made the argument that Tampa Bay shouldn’t invest in rail because, “You’re buying an expensive vehicle that you’re relying on for 30 to 40 years and at the same time the world’s changing really, really fast.” Huh? So we shouldn’t invest in a comprehensive regional transit solution because self-driving cars are coming … sometime? So in Mr. Polzin’s future Tampa Bay, the Howard Frankland Bridge is still clogged with traffic, but hey, those cars will be driverless!

I’m not a transportation professional, but Tampa Bay and its citizens need bold, decisive leadership in the region’s transit future. According to a Bloomberg analysis of the Census, over 100 people a day move to the Tampa Bay region, and because of our threadbare transit system, that means more cars on the road. The tech industry and other high-paying sectors look at the region’s transportation and balk. Low-income residents are especially disadvantaged. This problem is not going away and, meanwhile, our regional transit authorities break down into temper tantrums, unable to conduct a run-of-the-mill meeting. Give your constituents a reason to hope, to trust you. A comprehensive regional transit solution will be expensive and take years to construct, but it will revolutionize the region.

Jonathan Veach, St. Petersburg

High-tech and hands-on

Library programs

A 7-year-old reads a statement suggesting a children's library be moved to the Free Library during the Tampa and Hillsborough County Public Library Board Meeting at the Free Library in Tampa.

Learning is a lifelong experience, and for more than a century the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library has enjoyed being a permanent home for the curious. The families, students and others who visit our branches know that their library card grants them access to more than just books and magazines — and we pride ourselves on that.

Individuals in need of resume assistance, one-on-one technology help or hoping to improve their computer skills can attend one of our free training sessions. Our coding classes for kids and teens encourage critical thinking, and the digital tablets available for young children help enhance their STEAM learning. We’ve made a concerted effort to provide the programs necessary to ensure they are prepared to meet the demands of today’s — and tomorrow’s — workforce.

That’s why we’re excited to welcome “Grow with Google” to the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library on Feb. 19. The day will consist of free workshops and one-on-one training for small businesses, job seekers and anyone else who wants to build their digital skills. Google trainers will also provide our librarians with the tools and resources to provide these classes on an ongoing basis.

As our state becomes increasingly digital, we urge Suncoast residents to stop by the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library next week during the workshops and take advantage of the resources that will be provided. Join your neighbors, our library staff and Google trainers for an exciting learning experience.

Andrew Breidenbaugh, Tampa

The writer is director of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

Fairness in DNA tests

Insurers shouldn’t use DNA against you | Editorial, Jan. 18

Workers at Spectrum Solutions in Draper, Utah, process DNA spit kits before they are sent to customers of Ancestry.com.

They’ve become popular gifts — the personal DNA testing kits that can tell you where your ancestors came from or even if you are predisposed to certain medical conditions. But as testing companies such as 23andMe and Ancestory.com have become more prevalent, there have growing concerns about the privacy of that data.

The issue is playing out in the Florida Legislature, where lawmakers are considering bills on whether life, long-term and disability insurers should be allowed to use a person’s genetic testing results when writing a policy. What’s clear is that state legislators should proceed cautiously, because they could inadvertently cause marketplace imbalances that impact the availability and affordability of insurance policies for Florida consumers.

During this year’s legislative session, a bill has quickly moved through the House that would prohibit life insurers from using a person’s genetic test results when writing a policy — period. The idea might sound good but may carry unintended consequences.

For example, a person who has had a genetic test and learned of a medical diagnosis might share it with their medical providers but not the life insurer. That creates an unlevel playing field that could make the writing of life insurance policies far riskier. If insurers become skittish and pull back on writing policies, all Florida consumers will suffer through less access to good coverage and higher prices for insurance.

A more balanced approach is emerging in the Senate, where the bill says life insurers could only use genetic test results in underwriting if they are part of a person’s medical record. The bill would require direct-to-consumer DNA-testing companies to obtain written permission from the consumer before sharing any test results with an insurer. This is an important consumer protection.

Steve Pociask, Washington

The writer is president and CEO of the American Consumer Institute in Washington.

The debt we’ll leave our kids

The federal deficit

Our prosperous and expanding economy is based on expanding deficits and debt. A government should borrow to fund necessary needs of its people, repaying those debts in periods of economic prosperity. We have a $1 trillion budget deficit and a national debt of $23 trillion. Can we accumulate debt indefinitely? Of course not, but austerity does not buy votes — promising more free stuff does. How selfish of us to leave it to our children and grandchildren to figure out because we were not willing to pay for all that we wanted.

Dave Loeffert, Dunedin

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