Or at least that is what those who are in the know will tell you. Our bus system is so meager, with approximately 180 active buses operating in Hillsborough County, the second largest jurisdiction in the United States, that it seems every person with a driver’s license must & does operate their own personal vehicle to get from point to point. This can get very crowded for a Tampa Bay metro with its over three million residents and some 15 million annual visitors — which is itself a subset of the over 100 million who visit the sunshine state annually.
Is it going to get worse before it gets better? Yes.
Last year Hillsborough County saw its own population grow by 30,000. Think thousands of new cars and tens of thousands of additional trips.
Can we continue to grow at this pace without viable alternatives to driving a car? I desperately hope so and intend to find out.
I have long championed transit, even putting my political career on the fast track to oblivion by supporting a sales tax (heresy if you are a Republican) to advance the cause of a sane transportation alternatives. Why? Not because I love buses or trains. I found myself supporting transit after traveling to other metros across America that offer a myriad of transportation options to young professionals who would rather work on their laptops while commuting to work than gripping a steering wheel and fuming over road congestion. I have spent years attempting to attract high wage companies to our shores but found myself trying to explain to the founders just where their employees would live. A trip to just about any residential neighborhood, be it Westchase, Tampa Palms, Fishhawk or any point in between at 5pm on any given day can send any person over the edge.
I intend to discover first hand just how easy or difficult, it is to abandon my own car & rely on the bus or a rideshare each day. I’ll use HART buses, the HyperLINK system, Uber and Lyft and my own two feet to get from my meetings, four to five of which I have per day, and can occur anywhere in the county. This won’t be easy as our system was not created for people trying to get from home to work work quickly. I feel a bit like Magellan navigating uncharted territory. But unlike him, I have wifi on the bus—so I promise to keep you in the loop.
Mark Sharpe is executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance who served on the Hillsborough County Commission from 2004 to 2014.