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Monday, November 1, 2010

Why Transit?

Tampa's transit system has room to grow.
Over the last several days, we've taken a brief tour of HART's Rapid Transit Investment Plan, a comprehensive plan to improve public transportation in Hillsborough County.

And it all leads up to this: why transit?

There are lots of answers to that question, from economic benefits, to more choices for seniors, to adding service to new areas. But all of those things are part of a bigger picture, and that is transit's contribution to our quality of life.

A Lesson from History
As with most cities, the history of Tampa is a story that includes transit. The need to get from place to place easily and efficiently isn't something we invented in our generation. In fact, Tampa's transit past is one of its more interesting stories, as told on the TECO Line Streetcar System's website:
"In their heyday, Tampa's streetcars whisked passengers to and from Ybor City, Ballast Point, Hyde Park, Sulphur Springs and points beyond. Operated by uniformed conductors, the Birney cars were a welcome sight, and the familiar clang of the streetcar bell was music to the ears. To ride the streetcar was to feel the pulse of the community.
Tampa's first electric streetcar lines built in 1892 quickly became an essential part of everyday life as workers took the streetcar downtown and to the cigar factories of west Tampa. And families climbed aboard for a picnic or ball game in DeSoto and Macfarlane parks. Reaching the peak of its popularity in the 1920s with almost 24 million passengers in 1926, Tampa's streetcar system rolled to a stop in August 1946 following World War II."
Yes, you read that right - 24 million passengers rode the streetcar rails in 1926. By comparison, HART recently announced that we carried about 12.8 million passenger trips for fiscal year 2010. 

Tampa transit, circa 1926
 More Choices, More Freedom
We're a long way from 1926, of course. Sprawl has sprawled, roads have taken root, and we've become a "car culture." Conventional wisdom says we're just not willing to give up our cars.

But who says we have to?

Here's an illustration. HART participates in the Emergency Ride Home program administered by Tampa Bay Commuter Services. It's a great way to take some of the worry out of riding transit by ensuring you have a free taxi ride home if you need it. All you have to do to qualify is ride, bike or walk to work at least twice a week. That's it. Twice a week, you decide not to drive alone.

While you're at it, you'll probably save some money. You'll pay less for gas and parking. Maybe you'll find your family can even live with one less car, saving tons on insurance, maintenance, car payments, gas, parking, tolls...

And that's what's possible just by having another choice. Imagine what we could do with a truly strong public transportation system that goes where people want to go, when they want to go.

Back to the Future
Could we see people riding to the tune of 24 million a year again? Hard to say. But doesn't the thought of "climb(ing) aboard for a picnic or a ball game" sound great? And taking public transit to work, as so many did back then, would take an awful lot of stress out of the daily commute.
What will tomorrow's transit system look like?
Today, HART has a plan to make public transportation in Hillsborough County something we can be proud of, something that truly serves the citizens of this great community. We're committed to providing the best transit service we can with the resources available. That's true today, it will be true tomorrow, and it will still be true in the years to come.

To see HART's Rapid Transit Investment Plan, visit our website at www.goHART.org/whytransit.

For more on the TECO Line Streetcar System, go to http://www.tecolinestreetcar.org/

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