Leaders and experts gathered last week to turn talk into action toward solving Tampa Bay's transportation woes.
The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” could be the anti-theme song of commuters in the Tampa Bay region, whose patchy, inadequate public transit and clogged highways and interstates make getting to and from work the subject that everyone loves to hate — and talk about, ad nauseum.
There are signs that talk is beginning to turn into action, however.
Last week’s Tampa Bay Transit Forum at the Tampa Airport Marriott gathered some of the region’s top business leaders, elected officials and transit authorities to discuss plans in the works that aim to solve some of the area’s most pressing transportation woes.
Vology CEO Barry Shevlin was part of a panel discussion that focused on how public transit, or lack thereof, affects disabled people as well as young workers, who often choose not to drive, and who increasingly opt for quality of life over career when choosing where they want to live.
Shevlin tells Coffee Talk that lack of cohesion on transportation hurts his company’s ability to recruit and retain workers. “It’s pretty clear to me that the entire region needs to be working together to try and solve some of these problems,” he says.
Vology, based near St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, did $151 million in sales last year and employs more than 300 people, but Shevlin says less than half — 40%, by his estimation — live in Pinellas County. He says 45% "live in Hillsborough, and maybe 15% live in the other counties, so when a decision is being made in Hillsborough, it affects me just as much as a decision being made in Pinellas.”
Shevlin expresses cautious optimism a proposed 41-miles bus rapid transit (BRT) system that connects downtown St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel, via the creation of new dedicated express lanes and using Interstate 275 as a spine, could be the “catalyst” project that spurs development of a true regional approach to transit. “I’ve heard alignment around support for that,” he says. “People today choose where they’re going to live first, and then they find a job based on that, so the more options we have to get people to where our headquarters are, the better off we’ll be.”