The Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority will remain intact this year after surviving an attempt by Sen. Jeff Brandes to dissolve the agency in Tallahassee this Session.
Brandes’ bill (SB 1130) has died in the Senate. The legislation to scrap TBARTA, which oversees regional transit planning in the Tampa Bay area, would have required the agency to distribute its assets to each local government represented on its board.
Despite the bill’s failure, the issues Tampa Bay lawmakers have with TBARTA came to a head on the Senate floor last Thursday.
In a wave of amendments attached to Sen. Ed Hooper’s transportation package (SB 1194), which received unanimous approval from the Senate, Brandes and Sen. Darryl Rouson addressed the agency — albeit, with a lot of appendix analogies.
Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, presented one amendment that mirrored legislation he filed earlier this year (SB 422). That measure would give mayors more flexibility as members of TBARTA by allowing them to send a designated alternate to serve as a member of the governing board, with the ability to act as a voting member.
The amendment was adopted by the Senate, but not without word from Brandes.
“TBARTA is one of the most duplicative entities that we have in Tampa Bay,” Brandes said. “It is essentially the appendix of the transportation planning process, we could cut it out and nobody would miss it. We should sunset TBARTA.”
Brandes, while frustrated with the agency, voted for the amendment, with hopes to remedy some of the difficulties the agency has faced meeting quorum.
“Further messing with this appendix isn’t going to make it better,” Brandes said. “While I’ll support the amendment, I just think, ultimately, TBARTA should go away. It really adds no value.”
Rouson responded to Brandes concerns, continuing the appendix analogy.
“The sick appendix has a doctor, and it’s called this amendment,” Rouson said.
The agency was approved for a $1.5 million appropriation in this year’s budget conference, which Brandes also criticized in his debate, arguing that other local agencies had the ability to perform studies in the same space as TBARTA.
“They are effectively an entity that runs a small vanpool, but we give them $1.5 million every year to do studies, but you know what, DOT can do studies, MPOs can do studies, PSTA, HART can do studies,” he said. “It’s wild. So, we should just cut it out. Let’s sunset TBARTA and move on down the road.”
Brandes did file an amendment on that same piece of legislation calling for the dissolution of the agency. But, after Rouson’s amendment passed, Brandes withdrew the proposal.
“I am the surgeon for this appendix, and I am seeking to cut it out — I am seeking to remove it from the patient,” Brandes said when presenting his amendment to dissolve the agency. “It does nothing, it is infected, and we should remove it from the Tampa Bay market.”
The Legislature created TBARTA in 2007 to develop a transportation master plan for a seven-county region of West-Central Florida. The agency covers Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
Its original name was the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and while its mission was broad, it served limited purposes including operating a regional vanpool. The Florida Legislature voted to change the transportation in its name to transit and restructured its purpose to serve as a regional transit planning agency to coordinate intra-county plans.
However, that change established an unfunded mandate and every year since lawmakers have come back asking for funding to keep operations rolling. Critics see the agency as a wasteful and duplicative endeavor, while supporters consider it a way to establish regionalism for transit in a system where individual county transit agencies tend to focus only within their borders.