Joe Henderson: Maybe it’s time to pull the plug on TBARTA

If the troubled Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority went away, would we miss it?

In 2007, with considerable support from then-Gov. Charlie Crist, lawmakers created the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. It was supposed to be a regional approach to transportation needs.

Everyone said, yeah, we need this.

The Legislature provided $1 million in startup funding.

Crist then vetoed the expenditure because I guess the budget was tight — at least that’s what he said.

Whatever, that move was the perfect metaphor for TBARTA, which in many ways became a favorite punching bag for lawmakers. They see it as ineffective, and they’re not wrong. Maybe after 14 years of this, it’s time to pull the plug.

It’s not like we don’t need some big-picture approaches to our choking transportation issues, but increasingly TBARTA doesn’t look like the answer.

If it went away tomorrow, would we miss it? If you asked 100 locals about TBARTA, you would get 99 blank stares.

Besides, we already have the Florida Department of Transportation and county Metropolitan Planning Organizations that work together on these issues. TBARTA, no matter how well-intentioned, seems redundant to the goal.

Local authorities don’t want it butting into their turf, and then there’s the money problem. The Authority has never had adequate funding. What to do? They seem to hold meetings and plan for things that never happen.

So, I can’t blame Gov. Ron DeSantis for landing another punch in TBARTA’s midsection. He vetoed a $1.5 million budget appropriation for salaries and administrative stuff, just like he did last year.

Maybe this is the knockout punch.

TBARTA serves a five-county area that includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, and Manatee. It is supposed to develop and operate a regional transit system.

That was the idea, but it didn’t work too well.

What to do?

When in doubt, try rebranding. In 2017, the name changed from “transportation” authority to “transit” authority. That, too, failed to excite the masses.

Tallahassee clearly is losing its taste for this group.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes filed SB 1130 this year to disband TBARTA, but it died in committee.

But then along came DeSantis with his veto pen, and, well, isn’t it about time the message came through loud and clear?

The Tampa Bay area is growing too fast for sluggish transit ideas that never adequately address the problem. Everyone knows that.

We need solutions that better connect the major downtown areas with surrounding counties. Right now, every trip is a slog through bumper-to-bumper traffic.

TBARTA had plenty of time to prove its worth.

Time’s up.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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