1. Opinion

Editorial: Tampa Bay's fresh start for transit solutions

The Florida House sent to the governor on Wednesday legislation that would strengthen and focus the regional effort to build a modern and efficient transit system.
Published May 3, 2017

The Tampa Bay region has taken a critical step toward finally creating a robust regional approach to addressing its chronic transportation problems. The Florida House sent to the governor on Wednesday legislation that would strengthen and focus the regional effort to build a modern and efficient transit system. With strong bipartisan support from the area's political and business leaders, this is an essential piece of the puzzle and Gov. Rick Scott should sign it into law.

The bill, SB 1672, changes the name of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority to reflect its broader, more robust mission. The word "transportation" is replaced by "transit" to call attention to the role that buses, automated vehicles and rail might play in easing the region's gridlock. More substantively, TBARTA would be commissioned to "plan, implement and operate" a range of mobility options for moving people and freight throughout the region. The agency's target area would initially cover Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Hernando counties, though contiguous counties could also agree to participate.

Narrowing TBARTA's scope to five counties from the existing seven will help the region focus on core congestion problems in the metro area. Tens of thousands of commuters in the region cross county lines for work every day. With a tighter footprint and a greater sense of urgency to find solutions, this agency could achieve its original purpose by taking the lead on improving regional transit, whether on the bay bridges or by expanding bus service or building a new light rail system. At this point, the urgency and the focus on a regional effort is more important than the type of transit, which should be decided by a regional consensus.

The legislation suffered a brief hiccup this legislative session as two Tampa Bay area senators gummed up the bill by adding obstacles to building a rail system. But with a strong nudge from key business leaders from the Tampa Bay Partnership, those speed bumps were smoothed over with acceptable revisions that subject any proposed rail project to extensive public vetting.

Scott should see the bill that passed unanimously in both chambers as a balanced, responsible approach by the region to be accountable for its own destiny with no predetermined conclusions about a specific plan. The agency's 13-member governing board would include locally elected officials from the five counties and area business leaders. Scott would make four appointments to the board, including its founding chairman. This new governing structure is fresh and inclusive, and it reflects the strong working relationship of the bill's major proponents, from the Tampa Bay Partnership to the bill's main sponsors, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, to mayors and county commissioners on both sides of the bay.

Strengthening the governance of TBARTA is an essential step for the region to work together toward commuting solutions. But the tougher work is yet to come: deciding what transit options and routes are best and how to pay for them. This lays a solid foundation for the region's political and business leaders to find common ground. It's a statement about the need and urgency for modernizing the transit system, and the role that system will play in Tampa Bay's ability to compete and maintain its quality of life. The governor can support the ambition behind this effort by signing the bill into law and by appointing members to the board who are as forward-looking as this legislation.


  1.  Bill Day --
  2. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Even Oklahoma, a state not famous for progressive reform, has done more than Florida to fix sentencing inequities, Carl Hiaasen writes.
  3. In this photo from June 28, 2019, a Coalition for Life St. Louis member waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member. ROBERT COHEN  |  AP
    Florida law already requires that parents be notified prior to an abortion, writes senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida.
  4. Students say the Pledge of Allegiance as thousands gather at a candlelight vigil for several students killed in the Saugus High School shooting in Central Park, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. CAROLYN COLE  |  AP
    We doctors treat diseases, but what of the epidemic of gun violence, writes a St. Petersburg doctor.
  5. Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association members protest outside of the school board building in Tampa in December 2017. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  6. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what is believed to be a former African-American cemetery next to the parking lot of Frank Crum Staffing located at 100 S. Missouri Ave. in Clearwater.  The empty lot is part of the former Clearwater Heights neighborhood which featured Bethany CME church and Williams Elementary School.   Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.  JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s lost cemeteries are part of our collective history.
  7. A business man and woman holding a sign depicting their political party preference. SHARON DOMINICK  |
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  8. Leonard Pitts undefined
    Don’t wall ourselves off from contradictory opinions, writes Leonard Pitts.
  9. President Donald Trump, right, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pose for photographs as Giuliani arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Nov. 2016 in Bedminster, N.J.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  10. (left to right) Nupar Godbole, medical student at USF, and Tiffany Damm, medical student at UCF, take part in a papaya workshop at the University of South Florida Medical Students for Choice Second Annual Florida Regional Conference held in the Morsani College of Medicine on February 24, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Some of the instruments used in abortions, like the manual vacuum aspirator, are used in an exercise with a papaya, to simulate an abortion. MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.