Streetcar Board Could Dissolve
Tampa's streetcar system has been governed since its inception by a partnership of three groups. The City of Tampa owns the line's infrastructure - track, wire, and stations. The local transit authority, HART, provides employees to run the system and owns the streetcars. And a dedicated
nonprofit Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc. was created to oversee and manage the system.
HART's executive Philip Hale raised the topic of dissolving the Historic Streetcar board as a possible means of cutting the huge insurance premium paid for the line's unusual grade crossing with a CSX rail line. The premium has taken $4 million from the $5 million endowment created for the streetcar line over the past decade. HART's attorneys have suggested that the city or the transit authority may be able to negotiate a more favorable insurance premium due to their scale and the presence of other non-rail grade crossings throughout the area.
The concept is considered preliminary but could help reduce the expense of running the streetcar system. Farebox revenue is estimated to cover only about 45 percent of its $1.5 million operating budget. Lately ridership and revenue have declined. The now depleted endowment was intended to supplement passenger fares.
Nonetheless, local officials see the streetcar playing an important role in spurring development, especially now that private-sector bidders are considering ambitious plans to revitalize the Channel District, with investments spreading throughout the area well beyond the entertainment facilities along the current 2.7 mile downtown-Channelside-Ybor City streetcar route.
Board members point out that the fate of the streetcar needs to be considered in the context of overall development and transporatation planning for the area.
Dedicated Sales Tax Considered
HART has suggested that its system needs to grow to serve the area's economic growth and that a dedicated sales tax could provide the funds, including enough to help expand the streetcar system. The agency plans to buy new buses and has also introduced the concept of a 2.7 mile extension through downtown and Ybor City to connect the two ends of the U-shaped streetcar line.
Officials have said it would cost too much to shut down the streetcar because money from $55 million in federal construction grants would have to be returned. But they claim ridership will not grow unless it serves more of downtown and runs in a loop.