Monday, Dec 22, 2014

Report: Tampa transit not convenient to jobs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 08:51 PM

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TAMPA -

Four out of five jobs in the Tampa area are within walking distance of transit stops, a Brookings Institution study has found.

But the typical employer can reach only 13.3 percent of area workers within a 90-minute trip by public transit, ranking the Tampa area 93rd out of 100 major U.S. cities.

The disconnect between transit-accessible job sites and convenient transit trips to work is more a function of geography and urban sprawl than shortcomings on the part of the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit systems, the report's author said.

In other words, transit – in the Tampa area, that means buses – is available to most work places, but neighborhoods and employment centers are so spread out, a daily bus commute often is impractical.

"You see in the Tampa area a microcosm of what has happened across the country," said Adie Tomer, senior researcher with the Brookings institution's Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington.

"HART and PSTA are doing great jobs and employers are within reach of transit. But there's not nearly as much concentration of development in the Tampa area as in other places."

Brookings included Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and their suburbs in its local study area.

The report concluded that current transit systems are unprepared to adequately connect workplaces with the workforce.

Metro areas should continue to add transit service in a manner that best matches their current and future employment centers, the Brookings report suggested. It cited San Antonio as an example. That Texas city provides targeted bus service in the suburbs, matched with multiple express routes.

"It's challenging retrofitting transit into a community not properly developed for it," HART spokeswoman Marcia Mejia said after Hillsborough Area Regional Transit officials reviewed the report.

Despite the obstacles posed by urban sprawl, bus ridership on HART and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has continued to set monthly ridership records in the past year. That trend is playing out nationwide.

Tomer cited three factors prompting an increase in transit interest: gasoline prices; an environmental imperative to lower carbon output; and younger and older segments of the population who tend to want to drive less.

"You are seeing baby boomers nearing retirement and empty-nesters wanting to leave their cars parked for an extra day a week," Tomer said. "Young people have become interested in walking and riding their bikes to work."

But increasingly busy transit systems must rely on a shrinking tax revenue base.

"Florida is ground zero for an anti-tax attitude that helped Gov. (Rick) Scott into office," Tomer said. "That's not necessarily good or bad, but it has, without question, repercussions for investment in transportation."

The Brookings report suggested metropolitan leaders review the impact of transportation policy on job recruitment and creation, a lesson not lost on local transit leaders.

"Public transit is truly an economic development tool, and it should be marketed that way to businesses, perhaps even more so than it is marketed to attract more choice riders," HART's chief executive Philip Hale said.

"One of the most telling statements this report makes is that employee commuting costs also force businesses to increase ways to compensate for the congestion burden, which then is passed on as an additional cost to end consumers. This concept has been severely understated."

Hale said there was a missed opportunity at HART until late-night and weekend service was extended in 2008. Those improvements were aimed directly at making bus service more convenient for workers.

"The fact was that many second- and third-shift workers could use transit to get to work but not to get back home," Hale said. "The proof of this investment has been in the numbers. Weekend ridership has soared by 42 percent over the past five years."

Salt Lake City, with a 2011 median family income of $70,400, and San Jose, Calif., at $103,600, ranked first and second respectively at connecting jobs and workers in the Brookings report.

Those figures dwarf the $55,700 average from eFannieMae.com data for the Tampa area, where economic development groups continue to press for transportation improvements to bolster job recruitment and retention.

The Brookings report ranked Orlando 91{+s}{+t}{+ }and Lakeland 92nd among the 100 cities for percentage share of population that can reach a job via public transit.


tjackovics@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7817

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