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TBARTA is closing its doors, and its executive director is reflecting on its challenges

Aerial view of the downtown Tampa interchange at I-275 and I-4
Aerial Innovations
Florida Department of Transportation
The downtown Tampa interchange at I-275 and I-4.

David Green discusses the hardships the organization faced in recent years, and what would need to change if a similar effort were to take shape.

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority is officially shutting down early next year.

A bill in Florida’s latest legislative session confirmed the dissolution of the organization known as TBARTA, which struggled to get traction on region-changing transportation projects since the mid-2000s.

WUSF’s Sky Lebron sat down with TBARTA executive director David Green to discuss the hardships the organization faced in recent years, and what would need to change if a similar effort were to take shape.

What will people living in the region see, as a result of the closure?

It really depends on who continues to focus on regional mobility. And you're aware of the TBARTA bill that was approved by the legislature. Besides that TBARTA bill, there were two other transportation-related pieces of legislation. One requires FDOT to study possible operational efficiencies at HART and the potential for a greater regional approach to transit. The other requires the three MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations) of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas to study the feasibility of merging into a single regional MPO. Each of those creates the possibility that some new entity could emerge to continue to focus on regional mobility.

 head shot of David Green
TBARTA executive director David Green discusses the hardships the organization faced in recent years, and what would need to change if a similar effort were to take shape.

What are your feelings on the closure of TBARTA, as someone who's had a lot of stake in this organization for a number of years?

It's disappointing to me, I think the idea of an agency like TBARTA was a really good one. I just don't feel that it was set up to succeed. And what I mean by that is that there really was a lack of funding, and that ultimately is what led to TBARTA’s demise.

Is there anything, let's say going back to the inception of TBARTA, that you think could have been done differently to set itself up better for the future?

I talked a lot about the funding challenge. But the other challenge that TBARTA had was a lack of authority … You know, TBARTA didn't really have the authority to implement anything on its own because we required the agreement and cooperation from the five local MPOs and the five local transit operators in order to put any regional project in place.

What do you believe that TBARTA's greatest accomplishment was? Do you think the community felt it or felt connected to the organization through some of these accomplishments?

I think the greatest accomplishment was developing that vision of a regional network that could truly improve mobility throughout the five-county region. It's very difficult to implement projects and services. Funding has always been the issue in Tampa Bay, and not just for TBARTA, but for the local transit operators as well. They do as well as they can with the money that they have available to them. But they all desperately need more.

What do you think this area needs the most when it comes to regional transportation options?

We need stable and reliable local service, and the addition of new regional options.

Let's say in an ideal situation, what doesa stable and reliable local service look like to you?

Service that people can rely on to be timely for the vehicles to show up, according to the schedules when the buses are supposed to arrive at a bus stop, and then frequent enough that they could use it. Meaningful service for them to be able to use on a regular basis. I don't mean daily. People don't need to use transit every single day, but something they could rely on fairly regularly to go to the grocery store or potentially, go to work or visit friends or relatives. Hourly service is not frequent enough.

Five to 10 years down the road, nothing really changes, let's just say a hypothetical. What do you think this region looks like in terms of transportation and maybe just in terms of congestion?

It's going to be gridlock worse than what we already see on our interstates during the weekdays in rush hour. It's awful. Again, with the growth rate, and the more rural areas of our region are becoming more and more populated, the roads are becoming more congested. And I mean the secondary roads, not just the interstates. People see the issues.

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