A 1% Tax Equals How Much Transit?

Back in February, I wrote a post called “What Might Have Been.” In it, I talked about the aftermath of the repeal of the MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) in Washington State, and how it affected nearly every agency in the state. I was still living in the Tri-Cities at the time, so I focused especially on the effect it had on Ben Franklin Transit, and the amount of service that would’ve been lost had voters not approved an increase of the sales tax rate in 2002. After I wrote that, I ended up moving to Tampa for several months. While I was living there, I spent a lot of time riding the bus with Jason Eames (author of “Yo Bus Driver!”). Many times the subject of the abysmally low service frequency and hours of the local transit agency, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, was discussed, and we both agreed that HART’s service was “small city transit in a big city.” As it turns out though, things might not have turned out this way had voters in Hillsborough County approved a 1% sales tax measure that was placed on the ballot in November 2010.

If the 1% sales tax measure was passed, 75% of the funds would have gone towards transit while the other 25% would have gone to road projects. This also included matching state grants and FTA funds for transit. According to the Hillsborough MPO, the old (and still current) property tax costs the average homeowner $45 per year to support transit service (in comparison with the average $720 in fares that each HART rider pays each year). The 1% would have cost the average household just $12 per month. Obviously, as an author of a blog with the word “Transit” in it, I’m very pro-transit and would have easily supported this measure. I’m fairly certain that the majority of my readers, especially my Tampa Bay area readers, would have as well. As part of the process to make the case for this new tax, officials at HART made a plan for the public to show how a 1% tax would benefit the community. The list is quite long, but yet impressive for a major metro that is behind the times on public transportation but doesn’t want to be.

More Service on Existing Bus Routes

 -Local Routes

  •  Frequency improvements
    Core routes: 10 minute peak and 20 minute off peak service (weekdays) and every 30 minutes (weekends)
    Non-core routes: 15 minute peak and 30 minute service
  • Longer operating hours
    Span of service (minimum) 4:00 AM – 10:00 PM with selected routes operating to 12:00 AM, or 24 hours
  • More weekend service
    All local fixed routes, except express, to operate on weekends
    – Span of service (minimum) 6:00 AM – 8:00 PM on Saturdays and 7:00AM – 7:00 PM on Sundays
    – Key route frequency every 30 minutes on weekends all other route frequency every 60 minutes
  • Routes restructured to serve rapid transit service

-Express Routes

  • 6 peak trips minimum on each route

-Route extensions

  • Extension of Route 34 to serve Hillsborough Ave. west to Pinellas County line to connect with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) routes

New Local Routes

  • Bloomingdale/Lithia-Pinecrest
  • Bearss/Ehrlich
  • Big Bend/Balm Rd.
  • Thonotosassa
  • NW County LRT feeder
  • W County LRT feeder
  • N County LRT feeder
  • Linebaugh Ave. LRT feeder
  • NE Hillsborough – Plant City
  • SR 60-Brandon Blvd.

Community Circulators

– Frequent circulators linking specific destinations in the major activity centers, such as
businesses, medical and educational facilities, to the high capacity services (rail
and/or BRT)

  • Westshore
  • Downtown Tampa – enhanced service
  • University of South Florida (USF) Area

New Express Routes and supporting park and ride lots

– Rush hour routes connecting residential communities with major employment centers

  • New Tampa to Westshore
  • Brandon to Westshore
  • Northwest County to Westshore
  • Brandon to USF
  • Northwest County to USF
  • Northwest County to Brandon
  • South County to Brandon
  • Apollo Beach/Gibsonton to MacDill AFB
  • Plant City to Downtown Tampa
  • Downtown to MacDill AFB
  • USF to Westshore
  • South County to USF Area via Brandon

Rapid Services

– Higher capacity services that utilize capital investments to improve service reliability and increase transit speed; service types include bus rapid transit and light rail.

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – uses rubber tired vehicles but is operated and branded to emphasize that it is faster and more reliable than regular bus service. Some BRT systems operate on lanes dedicated to transit, while others run with traffic but with priority treatments at intersections. HART recently branded its upcoming BRT service as HART MetroRapid
  • Light rail is a higher speed service that operates on steel rails and is powered by electricity from an overhead wire. Light rail can operate in a right of way shared with other vehicles or on an exclusive right of way.

Areas targeted for rapid services

– Light Rail Transit

  • Downtown/USF/New Tampa
  • Downtown/Westshore/TIA/Linebaugh
  • Downtown/Brandon
  • Downtown/South Tampa

– MetroRapid

  • North-South (Nebraska-Fletcher)
  • East-West (Westshore to Temple Terrace)
  • Dale Mabry/Himes Ave.
  • Downtown to Brandon (via SR 60)
  • USF to New Tampa
  • Downtown to Tampa International Airport (via Kennedy Blvd.)

Regional Connections

-Some funding to extend the rapid services to connect to projects in adjacent counties, such as Pinellas County or Pasco County
– The projects are not currently designated

Supporting Capital Projects

  • New buses and vans for the service expansion
  • New facilities: park and ride lots, transfer centers, bus operating and maintenance centers
  • Technology projects to make it easier for passengers to access the system and to enhance service speed and reliability: customer information, Wi-Fi, Smart card fare payment, transit signal priority
  • Improvements to enable all passengers to access the system: sidewalk connections, bus landing pads, curb cuts
  • Ongoing improvements to maintain the system (vehicles, facilities, infrastructure and right of way) in a good state of repair
  • Rapid transit improvements: infrastructure, stations, vehicles, maintenance facility

Implementation Timeline

Within months of approval of the Rapid Transit Plan, people will see new transit services being implemented. In the first 12 months, there will be 20 improvements to local route service, four FLEX services launched and improvements to dial-a-ride service. Four new express routes, two new local routes, two improvements to current express service, two more improvements to local service, more FLEX routes, the first bus rapid transit service begun, and more dial-a-ride improvements will be implemented in the second year. The first light rail line could open as early as 2018, following more detailed engineering, design, right of way acquisition and construction. The specific service implementation schedule will be finalized immediately following the approval of the sales tax initiative.


  • 20 enhancements to existing local bus routes
  • 4 new FLEX routes launched
  • HART Plus service improved


  • 2 enhancements to existing local bus routes
  • 2 enhancements to existing express bus routes
  • 2 new local bus routes launched
  • 4 new express bus routes launched
  • 1 new FLEX route launched
  • 1 new MetroRapid route launched
  • HART Plus service improved

-Short Term (2013-2015)

  • 16 enhancements to existing local bus routes
  • 6 enhancements to existing express bus routes
  • 1 new local bus route launched
  • 2 new express bus routes launched
  • 3 new FLEX routes launched
  • 2 enhancements to FLEX routes
  • 2 new MetroRapid lines launched
  • HART Plus service improved

-Long Term (2016-2020)

  • 24 enhancements to existing local bus routes
  • 4 enhancements to existing express bus routes
  • 8 new local bus routes launched
  • 9 new express bus routes launched
  • 1 new FLEX route launched
  • 7 enhancements to FLEX routes
  • 3 new MetroRapid lines launched
  • First Rail line started
  • HART Plus service improved

A map showing the service improvements for bus service.

A map showing the proposed BRT and light rail network.

As luck would have it, the sales tax measure did not pass. The final tally was about 60% against and 40% for. However, as is typical for these sort of taxes, support was higher in the more urbanized areas of the county and nearly non-existent in the rural areas. (This map of the results shows the results of each precinct.) A large reason for the defeat was the economy and a very anti-tax poplace. Reportedly, there was also confusion about whether this sales tax was linked to the completely separate Florida High-Speed Rail plan.

In the time I spent living in Tampa, I grew to like HART (mostly), but I hope for the sake of the residents of Tampa and the entire region that this sales tax measure is revisited and passed in the future so that Tampa will not be left behind as the “last major city without ‘real’ transit.”


3 Comments on “A 1% Tax Equals How Much Transit?”

  1. The plan was impressive at first glance yes, but not well put together and marketed. Plus, a lot of the suburban residents were left to think “what will this do for me?” before a lot of voters were able to really make an informed decision, they were already being swayed by anti-rail, tea party groups who aimed to lump Tampa’s penny tax plan with “socialism”.

  2. […] seemed unrealistic just two years ago. If you haven’t read up on his other post regarding the 1% sales tax for transit, which he describes what could have happened if the 2010 sales tax referendum in Hillsborough […]

  3. […] Northwest, I continued to include coverage of transit in Tampa Bay on my blog, posting about what could have been if the 2010 Hillsborough transit tax had passed and introducing my own proposal for a Tampa Bay light rail system. Among my most recent Tampa Bay […]

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