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Study says HART is effective despite a lack of funding

side of a HART bus shows a giraffe
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A new state report says the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority is effective even though it's underfunded.

HART's budget is on par with cities like Bridgeport, Connecticut and Buffalo, New York that each serve roughly 1.5 million fewer people.

A new state report says the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority is effective even though it's underfunded.

The recently released study from the Florida Department of Transportation shows that HART's operating budget is similar to areas with far fewer residents.

It’s on par with cities like Bridgeport, Connecticut and Buffalo, New York that each serve roughly 1.5 million fewer people.

Other metrics put it in the same funding bracket as Chattanooga, Tennessee and Boise, Idaho, while serving a population five times larger than either city.

The Legislature ordered FDOT to study HART's organizational structure and operation last year after the agency faced multiple controversies.

HART's CEO Adelee Le Grand left last year following an investigation into alleged misconduct. And projections from the agency's own officials showed it could be facing a fiscal cliff as soon as this year.

HART Board Chair Luis Viera acknowledged the study during the first board meeting of 2024 on Monday.

"I think it makes a point on certain institutional challenges that HART can look at, which, to me, kind of gives the message that HART has core critical funding challenges,” Viera said. “But you've also got to look at transparency issues to get the trust of people."

HART Board meeting around a large table with everyone looking toward the head of the table at the chair
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When compared to these other agencies, the study found that HART’s operational performance was back at pre-pandemic levels, despite “limited fiscal and human resources.”

The study used nine other transportation entities around the state and country for comparisons, including transportation agencies in Pinellas County, Palm Beach County, Orlando and Jacksonville. Other out-of-state entities included Louisville, Kentucky and Pittsburgh.

When compared to these other agencies, the study found that HART’s operational performance was back at pre-pandemic levels, despite “limited fiscal and human resources.”

The report also criticizes HART for having a board that expands based on population growth, making it too large and difficult to manage. The average board size of its peers is roughly 10 members, while HART currently has 14.

“Larger boards can be advantageous because they offer more viewpoints, but also impede decision making,” the study reads.

HART Board Member Joshua Wostal says he sees the study's findings as a good point of reflection for the agency.

"The report did two things - it said that the people at HART are doing a great job, but that the way that HART exists and is chartered, is handicapping them,” Wostal said. “And that is something that we need to have a real meaningful conversation about."

The study also outlines a longstanding issue — inadequate facilities.

“Its heavy maintenance facility does not have adequate space to maintain its current fleet, or future fleet expansions, and has major subcomponents that are no longer in a state of good repair,” it reads.

Specifically, the study outlines water intrusion that has created mold and forced some administration offices to shut down.

The report lays out several paths the board can take, including:

  • Sticking with the status quo with additional optimization
  • Dissolve HART and rebuild something new
  • Partner with another agency
  • Develop a county/city governance model
  • Privatize all operations
  • Merge with another agency, such as the Pinellas County transit authority
  • Develop or join a regional transit authority

The board plans to discuss the study's findings more at a later meeting.

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