Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why does our commute in the Tampa Bay region get longer and longer?

I recently came across an article in the St. Petersburg Times, written by staff writer Michael Van Sickler, about why we Tampa Bay region residents are mired in our cars while other metropolitan areas (such as Miami and Orlando) have rail based commuting alternatives.  I wrote a reply to this article via the No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page on Facebook and I would like to share it with you.

After all, we need to fix the Tampa Bay region's traffic and transit woes in order to be competitive with Miami and Orlando.  The obvious solution is rail based mass transit, not the Florida DOT's proposed Tampa Bay Express (TBX) for Interstate 275.

Sad but true.

Why do the anti-rail activists such as Sharon Calvert advocate more roads and more congestion instead of providing a more logical solution for getting around the Tampa Bay region? Why build a 20 lane version of Interstate 275 in order to accommodate TBX?

Let's put it this way:

1. It is impossible for one to find a home close to work. Case in point: Downtown St. Petersburg has a residential downtown; unfortunately, for most people living in Downtown St. Petersburg - especially to be close to a Downtown St. Petersburg employer in particular - is financially out of reach.

2. With transit in the Tampa Bay region is spotty as it is now, the commuter is forced to rely on his or her own motor vehicle in order to commute to and from work. With living close to work out of the question, it means at least a 30 minute commute to work, if not longer.

3. The longer your commute to work, the more you pay in auto insurance. Case in point: Let's say you live in New Tampa and you commute to work in Downtown St. Petersburg. Yes, Downtown St. Petersburg. From New Tampa you have to make your way south on congested Interstate 75 over to doubly congested westbound Interstate 4 in order to get to southbound Interstate 275. And yes, you got to get through Malfunction Junction and the Howard Frankland Bridge. Once you are over the Howard Frankland into Pinellas County, you still got a ways to go before you reach the office in Downtown St. Petersburg. That said, how many miles from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg is your commute?

When you call around or go online for an auto insurance quote, one of the questions you are asked is this: How many miles is your commute, one way, to work daily? Give the agent the one way distance from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg and you will more likely get a high rate quote.

4. Don't forget, there is wear and tear on your vehicle for every day you commute to and from work. Factor in gasoline and maintenance costs. We are enjoying low gas prices right now, but wait until gas prices get back into the upper $3 to the lower $4 a gallon range.

5. More and more employers in the Tampa Bay region end up losing valuable employee talent due to long commutes to and from work plus the lack of reliable mass transit. This cuts into an employer's bottom line as once an employee quits, the employer has to hire and train a replacement employee which takes a considerable amount of time.

6. There are people out there for one reason or another do not want to own a vehicle due to the high costs of insurance and maintenance, not to mention the car loan payments you make every month if you finance your car purchase. Unfortunately, in the Tampa Bay region this is not an option due to the lack of a robust rail-based mass transit system.

7. More and more people are having to move from the Tampa Bay region to metropolitan areas which already have rail-based mass transit systems in place such as Miami/Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando as examples. With rail based mass transit it's as simple as getting on at the nearest commuter rail station and riding the train in to work downtown - no overly congested highways to worry about.

The need to fix the Tampa Bay region's congestion woes is clearly obvious: The Tampa Bay region needs commuter and light rail based mass transit. We do not need a 20 lane Interstate 275 and we definitely do not need those so-called "Lexus Lanes" such as TBX. And certainly the Tampa Bay region does not need to become another Detroit!

And we the residents of the Tampa Bay region deserve better choices when it comes to getting around.  Better choices for transit mean a better economy for the Tampa Bay region.