Could a New Mayor Bring New Transit to Tampa Bay? (Hint: She’d Better!)

Residents are hopeful as the region's transit authority unveils its 'Envision 2030' plan.

More transit could make Tampa move. Photo: Joaquim Alves Gaspar
More transit could make Tampa move. Photo: Joaquim Alves Gaspar

Florida transit leaders want to hear from Tampa Bay commuters how they can improve getting across the bay area’s five counties along the Gulf Coast without relying on their car in the next 10 years.

They can start by calling the city’s new mayor.

Former police chief Jane Castor won a landslide runoff victory on April 23 largely on a platform of reducing crime and improving transit. She was sworn in on May 1, making her the city’s first openly gay and — no less important — openly transit-loving mayor.

New Tampa Mayor Jane Castor
New Tampa Mayor Jane Castor

Castor’s top priorities include giving commuters more options than driving on the dreaded interstate 275 which is ripe for a teardown anyway. Specifically, that includes connecting Tampa Bay’s downtown with the Westshore neighborhood, where the city’s international airport is located, with either an express bus or a streetcar; expanding the region’s bus service and bike lane network across the county; and extending the city’s existing streetcar from downtown and Ybor City further north to Seminole Heights. Streetcar ridership is attracting 1,700 riders a day, up 68 percent, thanks to a grant making the service free and increasing its frequency from every 20 minutes to every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays.

“We’ve never lacked for good ideas on transportation. We’ve lacked for the funding and so I want to see some solutions put in place quickly,” Castor told WFTS Tampa Bay.

She’s also been able to admit when she’s made a mistake, such as when her police department issued excessive rate of citations to cyclists, most of whom were African American, in 2015.

Castor is already getting to work on improving the county’s transit by taking a seat on the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority Board, she announced last week.

On the day before Castor’s inauguration, the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority launched its Envision 2030 plan to generate feedback for expediting how Floridians get around the Big Guava. The final proposal must be presented to the Florida Department of Transportation before September 1, 2020.

“We want to know how they use transit, what they want in transit, what they want this region wide transit to be,” TBARTA spokesman Chris Jadick told Fox 13. “It’s critical to have the leadership of our entire five county area involved and engaged.”

Commuters meanwhile are dreaming of days when they’re not stuck on the I-275.

“The toll way is pretty rough, there’s always traffic. It would be really fantastic if there were something other than a car to get somewhere,” Joe Clatch, a New Port Richey resident, told Fox 13