United States: Even With Rapid Buses, Tampa Bay Needs Light Rail

Last Updated: February 20 2018
Article by Gary L. Sasso

Originally published by the Tampa Bay Times

It's encouraging to see we are working on a bus rapid transit plan for the Tampa Bay region, which we need if it's conceived and implemented well.

But Tampa Bay also needs light rail.

What's so special about rail? Don't ask transportation officials or engineers this question. Tell most of them which two areas you want to connect, and they will tell you how to do it. That is their job, but it is reactive. That approach waits for more urban sprawl and responds with more or bigger roads.

Rail is not about connecting existing population centers or taking away anyone's car. It's about shaping smart growth in the future and creating the kind of population centers we want to have.

Only rail can do this, because the system is fixed: It sends a signal to the investment community about where they can build. It spurs transit-oriented development in ways other transportation modes cannot.

The Tampa Bay Partnership conducted a "One Bay" study 15 years ago and asked 10,000 residents what kind of communities they wanted. They said they wanted high-density urban living, where we consolidate office, residential, retail and entertainment in walkable communities. These are the kinds of communities light rail can stimulate and then connect. Baby boomers and millennials alike want to leave their urban home, get on a train and go to work, dinner, a hockey game or the theater.

The urban centers we compete with around the country for business and talent provide this option. Tampa Bay doesn't, and we are falling further behind. More than a decade after its original light rail line opened, Charlotte is opening a 9.3-mile extension to the UNC-Charlotte campus in March.

So what are the impediments to the realization of this vision?

First, ironically, is our desire to foster the competitive position of Tampa Bay regionally. Any regional system will have many components, but we can't approach them all the same way or at the same time. When it comes to rail, discussions on a regional scale tend to default to commuter rail (or bus rapid transit). That's very different from the light rail systems that spur transit-oriented development. Light rail systems tend to arise within a city.

When we tackle anything regionally, we also have to grapple with multiple political jurisdictions. For rail, it's much more feasible to face issues one city at a time. And the cost of any regionwide rail system can be daunting. Many communities around the country have figured out that it's best to start a light rail system inside one city. They can connect regionally as they proliferate.

The second impediment is our fixation on federal funding. Federal criteria for rail are built off reactive transportation planning principles. We can't qualify for federal money for rail until we show we have existing demand for public transit along the routes in question. But this is using rail to respond to existing sprawl, not to prevent it. And it falsely assumes demand for buses will be interchangeable with demand for light rail. Relying on federal funding criteria also increases the time and expense of completing any project.

We hear rail is an outdated "19th century technology," soon to be overtaken by driverless cars and ridesharing. Yet credible experts project that driverless cars will not be in widespread use for another 30 or 40 years. Are you likely to give up your car anytime soon? When asked recently whether public transportation will be supplanted by self-driving technology, Uber said, "In many communities, mass transit is the backbone of their transportation systems" and called for support for projects that integrate new technology and sharing applications into public transit.

Third, we hear about lack of money or political will. We have stumbled on funding because we have tied creation of an urban light rail system to massive countywide, comprehensive transportation initiatives. We have asked voters in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to approve building these systems, and they acted in their self-interest and shot down tax increases.

The fact is, voters have elected representatives to make these decisions, not toss the ball back to us or to default reflexively to countywide sales tax increases. If we approach this incrementally and strategically, the cost becomes less intimidating. Other communities have found the way. We can and should, too.

What's the fix?

We need to shed the limitations I've described and develop a "can do" attitude about getting this done. Let's issue a request for proposals to solicit proposals by developers to develop the system we need through a public private partnership known as P3. Lately, P3 projects are being instigated by the private sector. Groups of developers and others are putting together proposals too enticing and provocative to pass up, encouraging the public sector to seek proposals. There are ways to get this done, but only if we stop being derailed by arguments that can't withstand scrutiny.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions