The hope for bringing high(er) speed rail to Tampa actualized a bit more last week with the announcement that a CSX executive has left the company to join Brightline, starting today (July 16). It's being widely impressed in the reports that this is in some way a direct result of Brightline's strategy to connect Tampa and Orlando as part of the same high(er) speed rail network it is building on Florida's east coast.
Bill O'Malley profile picture from Twitter account.
The Tampa Historic Streetcar Board met on the 20th and the bulk of this meeting was a stand up report by HART Interim Director Jeff Seward regarding the stunning development that the Teco Line Streetcar would be fare-free for a whopping three years.
Here's the video embed of that meeting that starts with Seward's presentation.
Jeff Seward explains to the Tampa Historic Streetcar Board
the details of the streetcar system's upcoming 3 year
The free-fare period will likely begin in October of this year and is possible through a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) grant aimed at, among other things, exposing user preference for the streetcar and setting up for a more solid argument toward the development of a modern system similar to one already operating in Kansas City.
Seward is careful to pause over the point that the grant had to be, and, obviously was, approved by Florida Governor Rick Scott.
So, this is the second time this week that we are hearing about Rick Scott's sudden involvement in turning Tampa into a transit rail town. First with a push to put a high(er) speed commuter rail system in the city, and now with a grant that will almost certainly prove a point that will then lead to Tampa's own "light" light rail system in the form of a modern streetcar. If this strange twist of pattern continues, I am going to believe it completely possible to find Scott showing up in Tampa to build a rail system himself.
Yeah it's gotta be politics. Scott wants to be a Senator or something, or maybe President (which makes him the sane choice if it ever comes down to him or Trump). Or, more positively speaking, it may be a legitimate recognition that with the eastern half of Florida well on its way, it's time to finally balance the State's investment in transportation choice by finally, finally , paying attention to the western half. All of this bodes extremely well, suddenly, for Tampa commuter rail and light rail.
The free-fare period is a ... "fair" ... way to ask the question of whether or not people are willing to use the system for serious transportation, given both economic and physical friction-free access to it. The fares aren't just going away, so is the entire fare process and even the onboard fare equipment . As near as I can tell that will make the system a simple "step aboard" one, from the designated stops of course.
It's important research because indeed, modern streetcar systems are volatile. Ft. Lauderdale's planned system has been stopped (there was a limit on how much they were willing to spend for it and the cost estimates began exceeding that) and in Atlanta, who went from free to charging $1.00 on its system, is now struggling with ridership big time (loosely analyzed, the line is too short and operates in mixed traffic -- Tampa's system does not). Therefore a demonstration on solid footing will be sure to put any future Tampa system on par with the successes such as Portland or Kansas City.
The guy who dashed the nation's first true high speed rail connection in the country between Tampa and Orlando made headlines today by being the same guy who is now facilitating high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.
In a nutshell, Governor Rick Scott, in what some are regarding as an expense-free political ploy, is now behind efforts to let a private company build a line. The argument being made for this about-face is that unlike the package he killed upon taking office in 2011, he is backing a private industry approach, similar to the Brightline model currently in play on Florida's eastern coast.
Governor Scott said, “This is an exciting opportunity for Orlando, Tampa and our entire state. When I became Governor, the Obama administration was trying to use federal taxpayer dollars to pay for a rail connection that had an extremely high risk of overspending taxpayer dollars with no guarantee of economic growth. This is exactly what we’re seeing in California, a state which took this bad deal from Obama, and in Connecticut where taxpayers had to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for their rail line. Instead of placing taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project. Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers.”
Personally I much appreciate this attitude - however six years later - that if you're going to cling to an ideological premise (even if I'm sure it's nuts), at least provide a solution by that ideological premise for what anyone otherwise agrees is a good thing. If Scott and his administration were really so foiled by the idea of a federally funded rail system, then it makes good sense to me that they welcome a system built within the private framework they so religously believe in.
I mean, the original rejection was still bat-shit crazy, and, seemingly reliant on "theories" of failure that flew in the face of studies about ridership at the time, not to mention the ultimate responsibility in the event of overruns (which were always to be on the private builders, much as they will be for any private company that builds today). The decision to not build had all the evidence of being pure politics then, just as the decision to build now does.
But really, if it means a rail terminus in Tampa at long last, Tampa Rail will not quibble. I've always known that political wind defines the rise and fall of these systems and long-time readers of TR in past iterations know that I've always preached a "holding out" strategy specifically in the event something like today's developments come to be. No effort to kill progress on transit rail, light, high speed, or otherwise, should ever be taken as permanent.
If I'm piecing the reports together right, the genesis of this renewed opportunity has to do with the reception of an "unsolicited proposal" from a private company seeking to use the same I-4 corridor that was put aside for the original federally funded project in 2011. It's this solicitation that serves to activate the entire process of high-speed-rail-procurement by the Florida Department of Transportation. And part of that activation is to open up bidding for 120 days for potential HSR builders to provide their proposals.
TampaBay.com is reporting that the opening activation bidder is in fact none other than Brightline, the nation's first private transportation rail operator in something like 100 years or so who, as mentioned above, is working on that new system on Florida's east coast (technically the system they are launching there is something people now comfortably refer to higher speed rail not "high speed rail"). Brightline has long been on record indicating their ambition to include Tampa and Orlando in their evolving network (note the blurb near the end of this article) so this should be no surprise to anyone.
Here's the YouTube of a presentation given to the Tampa Historic Streetcar board about a month ago regarding the streetcar modernization and expansion project. The full video of that meeting is posted here but my embed below cuts straight to the part to the presentation itself.
Steve Schucraft provides update on status of
the streetcar expansion/modernization effort.
Don't be a slouch, watch the whole thing. But if you're in a hurry -- these things stuck out to me:
Phase I is complete, they've submitted a letter to the FTA for entry into project development (which is apparently to say, they formally put the evolving concept on their official may-one-day-be-funded-by-them radar - they hope to receive a letter in return that says the FTA recognizes the effort)
The study focuses exclusively on a one-seat ride from end to end. This means that the study does not take into consideration the possibility of mixing the current heritage streetcars with modern ones (an idea I personally liked, but, now that I understand that it might split rides between vehicles, gives me pause for obvious reasons)
An extension would serve an additional 5,500 residents and 16,000 jobs over the existing nostalgia system.
Click on image for larger viewable detail.
The prospects of an extension and modernization are exciting for Tampa, particularly those who live in the core. It is good to see both fronts being taken so seriously and with apparent stride.
So it looks like the Tecoline Streetcar system in Tampa is finally going to be a free ride. It's not "free" in the holistic sense -- the Florida Department of Transportation is basically footing the bill as part of an aligned strategy with Tampa to expose people's preference for smooth fixed guideway transportation while traversing Ybor, Channelside and the downtown. By exposing rider preference on a large scale the idea is to improve the case for Tampa's migration to a modern streetcar system.
Other factors beside fare price are important in exposing commuter preference, such as headway times, but the grant funding will improve that too. Rides will now be by every 15 minutes instead of 20.
I also imagine that with a dormant fare collection system boardings will be greatly sped up, meaning that all in all, the whole thing will just flow so much better.
A couple of years of this should be enough time to acclimate and fester demand for more fixed guideway which is crucial for the pursuit of funds to laterally transform the system from a nostalgia to a modern one which more resembles light rail but on a sort of mini-scale.
In fact, the Kansas City Streetcar, a modern one similar to that which Tampa is seriously pursuing, has been scott free to direct riders since it began and it is regarded by those looking on as a success.
Oh, on the heels of wrapping this entry up -- the Tampa Bay Times has expressed as much in their opinion.
I have gone ahead with an idea that I have been flirting with for a couple of months now (and, may have previously -- hard to tell with my admittedly erratic web strategy of years past), which is to consolidate my various other theme blogs with this one.
Specifically, these titles are now hosted in the same framework as that of my personal blog which is the one you are looking at right now:
Tech for the City
Those titles will continue to have the very rare entries represented here at Dave the Web Guy and will be indexed by the category labels tamparail, wbrail, openness, and techcity.
I did this because the overhead of maintaining all those separate blogging presentations was diffusing a cohesive effort to keep my messaging active. Most these blog titles were languishing without fresh content and in turn the respective messages they attempted to deliver was taking a hit. If the flagship blogs aren't active it is too easy, in my summation, for visitors to assume the same about the causes themselves.
The messages are still important to me as is the ability to chronical their respective evolutions in a place that exists outside Twitter or Facebook. Turning these topics into category entries at my personal blog not only allows me to do so, it also restores the energy to my personal blog in the form of a single view overlooking the wide range of interests and causes that I have come to evangelize over the years.
In short, the topics are no longer interesting standing on their own, driven by a single personality, as much as my personality is maybe a little more interesting with direct visibility to the variety of topics that I behold. I look at it as maybe two publishing problems being solved.
There are custom domains that were pointed to the blogs I list above. They will now land here at equivalent custom "pages" that will continue to serve as their headquarters and where a timeline presentation of their individual evolutions will be displayed. Basically I will be taking the existing custom index pages that drove their previous blogs and migrating them one by one to this site. Here is how the one for OpennessOrg looks for example.
My only concern with this new approach is that it may render my personal blog here somewhat discombobulated or "disjointed" of its own message, which is to effectively bitch about the dying World Wide Web alongside issues in my personal life. One day I might be talking about how annoying hangnail is, to be followed in an entry the next day about some contract dispute preventing train tracks being laid in the Poconos (a Wilkes-Barre Rail topic) or another police agency that has gone to a digitally encrypted radio network (an Openness topic). Unless I synthesize the presentation overall very carefully, readers might be confused.
Fortunately though, in this universe at least, I don't post that often and I certainly don't have many regular readers. Nonetheless, here's to hoping this new format changes things for the better.