FINDING CONSENSUS ON TRANSPORTATION IN HILLSBOROUGH AND PINELLAS COUNTIES

By Joan Alagood

BUILD TRUST.  SERVE THE PEOPLE.  INNOVATE.  PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST

Café con Tampa hosted a wide ranging discussion about Hillsborough and Pinellas transportation ideas with guest speakers Sharon Calvert, Tom Rask and Barb Haselden Friday, February 17, at the Oxford Exchange.

Most of the audience in the room was pro-transit - yet the three speakers were concerned citizens who asked politicians and power brokers to build trust first, to serve the people not the power brokers, to ask questions before jumping to solutions, to treat transportation like a business case and to work in 10 year increments, no longer.

Tom Rask said consensus could be enhanced by speaking to the other side early. “They should have talked to us a year ago” he said.  “Proponents keep trying the same strategy.  After three to five failed initiatives you would think they would try something else.” He believes the same people are always involved and they need to make an authentic effort to increase community engagement.

Sharon Calvert, who marshaled forces for the successful citizens initiative NO TAX FOR TRACKS, explained that innovation and technology are moving fast and will disrupt transit.  She asks “where are the incubators of innovation?  We can benefit from hearing from them.”

Calvert also admonished the counties for ignoring roads.  “Let’s maintain what we have first and fix our roads.  We can work together.  There are places we can agree.” These are cost effective beginnings.”

Barb Haselden, who owns an insurance agency, asks that first we look at transit as a business person would.  She adds that gathering information is a good start.  For instance a study on bus routes in Pinellas discovered that only 7 routes represented 70% of all the bus riders in the County.  She said politicians spend money to overcome the wishes of the voters.  “They continue to get paid and we get to pay for it” she said, adding that “the process is corrupted.”  She advises to find consensus, stay flexible, set values aside and engage everyone.

Identifying the problem and developing a clear problem statement would go a long way to building consensus according to  Calverty.  Separate needs from wants, she said. 

Instead, many pro-transit advocates want to jump straight to solutions which are often twenty to thirty year bonds.  Calvert recommends that plans be executed in shorter ten year increments instead and place limits on expenditures. Ask: Is there a business case for this?  Ask what are you paying to relieve the congestion?  Gather information first rather than solutions first.

One audience member stated that Hillsborough County is twenty years behind in transportation. Another replied that we are not behind, but ahead, if we have not wasted taxpayer money on failed initiatives.

Speakers and participants did agree that open and free flowing discussions like this one hosted by Café con Tampa is a healthy start to building true consensus.


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