Can man live by transit alone? Not in Tampa.

The carpool experiment

Many of us on the CL edit staff live in St. Pete, so we have to commute to our offices in Ybor. Car-pooling would seem to be a logical choice, but our schedules vary; some people arrive (and depart) earlier than others, others work at home a couple of days a week.

Then came The Traffic Jams from Hell. We’ve referenced them in other parts of this issue, but if you were commuting across the bay in either direction in the last few weeks, you know what we mean: Due to a variety of causes, commutes that once took 20-40 minutes were taking two hours, at least. 

And the thing is, traffic congestion has been getting steadily worse for a few years now. See the slow trail of cars snaking across the Howard Frankland from PInellas every afternoon. Endure the inevitable slowdown where the Gandy feeds into 275 South. Speed along the Selmon — then get stuck on the Gandy on-ramp.

Sure, California and D.C. and Atlanta no doubt have it worse, but that’s little comfort. And why should all of us who work in Pinellas get stuck in five different cars when we could be enjoying the agony together in one?

So we’re making the effort. The biggest carpool crowd so far? Two of us, plus a dog! But we’re at least more conscious of the car-pooling option. And, like Mark Sharpe, we’re going to try and take advantage of the alternative.

Wish us luck.

—David Warner 

click to enlarge Sharpe poses for a selfie with two drivers for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit's nascent HyperLink program. - Courtesy of Mark Sharpe
Courtesy of Mark Sharpe
Sharpe poses for a selfie with two drivers for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit's nascent HyperLink program.

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.

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