Me standing in front of BRT bus in 2007. Looks like that was the future sooner than any light rail car.
Wow, so in no uncertain terms there you have it.
The quest for light rail in Tampa Bay is dead.
Bob Buckhorn puts the situation in exasperating context:
Buckhorn has long been a proponent of rail, particularly connecting urban areas, but said he wasn’t interested in waiting any longer while people continued to debate the merits of a light rail line.
"Candidly, I’m tired of talking about it," Buckhorn said. "We need a victory ... I can say with a great deal of certainty if we move toward a BRT model using the existing interstate, we can get this done much more quickly than another prolonged debate in a political referendum about whether or not rail is appropriate for our area or not."
You might be surprised to hear me say that I sympathize with him and find little to decry in this concession. After over 15 years of this blog I don't see any of this as being outside the existing realm of disappointment and frustration that has always existed. There is no new front that has been fought and won, and in fact the website has long anticipated an eventual light rail system rife with periods of traction tanking completely, first. Light rail will still be a reality in Tampa if it takes 10, 20, 50 years.
Transit consolidation into fixed guideways is the actual future, and that even accounts for the evolving autonomous vehicle revolution. Autonomous vehicles will settle out as more efficiently implemented on rail or at least along fixed paths in some form or fashion.
Did Anti-Rail Foes Win?
You might wonder if this means that the "enemies" of light rail "win"? These would be the anti-tax-obsessed parties whom I've long suspected as being fronts for ideological or commercial groups who don't want people having transportation choice, or, who are trying to undermine a community's sense of collective investment as a means to keep, again, commercial interests dominant.
The answer to that is probably not. Hillsborough County has lost its transit referendums by large margins in the county-specific sectors. The anti-tax groups, much like this blog, simply don't have that much influential reach to account for such persistent aversion.
Even if their newspaper editorials or their blogs did reach better than, say, blogs like this one or of other advocate groups, it is important to remember that the same groups and same output existed every place rail system referendums have passed. In short their content only appeals to other nuts, not most people. They reflect the problematic base aversion but they do not cause it. Whatever resistance to rail Hillsborough County residents have, it is much more native and deeply rooted than any anti-taxer's blog sway.
If these referendums were being lost on a tighter margin, maybe I'd have something different to say. But so far Tampa Bay has never been that close.
Rail Still On The Way
And finally, let's remember that the dismissal of light rail in the starkest of terms ever put forth to date in Tampa Bay, nobody is actually discounting transit area rail development projects at large. Tampa City will likely get its modern streetcar system up and running within 15 years by hook or crook. People in the city, a younger class, want a transit mix and more importantly want the freedom of a car-free lifestyle. And of course relevant business owners understand this.
The modern streetcar is light rail. One that anti-taxing loonies will have a much harder time influencing away at all.
Then, there is a very good and openly declared certainty that Brightline will touch Tampa in the future, giving the city a commuter reach to Orlando and elsewhere in the form of conventional rail. And high speed rail will likely once again manifest, should the private experiment work.
Even with Tampa's acquiescing to bus rapid transit for the foreseeable future, that isn't exactly a bad thing. A well developed BRT system (and aha!, that is the catch point really since "BRT" can by definition be as little as differently painted buses) can afford status as a formidable light rail template. It can have sleek bus designs, dedicated right of ways, sophisticated stations, and now, mind-busting technology that will enthuse transit geek generalists every bit as much.