TBARTA’s Executive Director, Ray Chiaramonte, spoke to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) last week to share potential changes to the structure and members of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. His legislative update briefly explained what is in the bills being considered.
Additional funding for several programs is anticipated through one bill. This includes the Vanpool program and One Bus Away, which uses a cellphone app to tell riders when the next bus will arrive, and the Regional Fare card, which can be used like a debit card to purchase bus tickets.
TBARTA’s general operation fund will also receive a boost under this bill, but the amount differs between the House and Senate versions of the bill, Chiaramonte said.
A second bill would give voting authority to the TBARTA advisory committee, something it currently does not have.
The third bill is where the biggest impact is expected. It changes the focus of TBARTA as well as the counties involved. Initially, both Citrus and Hernando Counties were dropped from the organization, but by the time Chiaramonte left Tallahassee and came to the meeting, Hernando County had been reinstated as a member county.
The Chairman’s Coordinating Committee (CCC) would also include a member of Citrus County since the MPO encompasses both Hernando and Citrus Counties.
Chiaramonte stated that St. Petersburg and Tampa were included, but any House or Senate appointees could not be involved in TBARTA. Governor Scott will still have four appointees to the CCC board and FDOT will also have advisors. Changes to the proposed legislation appear to be happening almost daily, and the final bills may be quite different.
Ronald Kitchen, the MPO chairman who represents Citrus County, stated “It’s not so much that we have a voting member at the table so much as we have a voice at the table.” With Hernando County back “in”, Kitchen says he feels that the working relationship between Hernando and Citrus would assure him that Citrus County’s interests would be considered.
Chiaramonte agreed, and said that even with Sarasota County being “dropped”, they will have representation through the CCC, since there will also be someone representing all eight MPOs, including Polk County.
The legislative process is expected to take more time, and the session may be extended to consider many other bills currently in various committees. Chiaramonte stated that the TBARTA legislation, which was in the Community Affairs Committee on 04/03/17, will still have to be approved by Governor Scott if the legislature passes it.