Over the next two weeks, Tampa Bay counties will look at how they fund mass transit. In Hillsborough, HART will have meetings on increasing the county millage rate from .4682 to .5000 to fund HART operations. Pinellas County’s PSTA has proposed increasing their millage from .5601 to .7305.
The HART and PSTA boards have taken their first steps in moving forward with the millage increase because they realize that even their bare bones service is necessary for people to get to work and around the region. But as we move forward, HART and PSTA would do well to listen to the message of St. Louis’ Citizens for Modern Transit, “Transit: Some of us ride it, all of us need it.”
As a part of a successful 2010 campaign to pass a sales tax to fund bus and rail service expansion, Citizens For Modern Transit had a series of commercials with the “Some of us ride it, all of us need it” slogan. St. Louis residents who took busses or trains to work or to get to college classes were featured in campaign advertisements. In one radio ad, a hospital nurse kindly suggests that without transit to get her to work, her patients would die.
“Some of us ride it, all of us need it,” is applicable to the Tampa Bay community when you consider our transit access to employment in Tampa Bay. According to the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (which includes Pasco and Hernando Counties) is 77th of the top-100 metro areas in providing transit and job access. Only 16 percent of residents can access jobs within 90 minutes with transit.
The business community continues to care about transit because they understand transit is crucial for businesses. Consider that Tampa Airport CEO Joe Lopano spoke against HART cuts because of the potential impact on his employees that handle your bags or make sure no illegal objects get on planes. At parking starved hospitals throughout the region, both employees and patients rely on transit to get to work and appointments.
In a struggling economy, we need to provide transit options as a function of job creation and economic development. Our elected officials cannot take steps to create jobs, but then take away the services that take people to those jobs. The boards of HART and PSTA will likely have a final approval for their new millage rates to maintain funding for transit. Moving forward, they can follow the leadership demonstrated by our largest employers, in believing that while some of us ride transit, all of us need it.