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Hillsborough Area Regional Transit

Tampa’s Electric Streetcar

Unique Public-Private Partnership



Recognized not only for its nostalgic charm, but also for being a clean and cost-efficient mode of transportation, the electric streetcar is today enjoying a revival in Tampa and across the United States. In 1996, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit formed a partnership with the city of Tampa and the community to develop the first line of a streetcar system. This first line, approximately 3.77 km (2.34 mi) in length, is strategically located to allow for convenient front door service between six hotels, the convention center, major entertainment venues, multiple cruise terminals, the Ice Palace, Florida Aquarium, parking facilities, and residences. The system will enable visitors and citizens alike to move safely and efficiently from one place to another without the need for an automobile. The capital cost of the project, approximately $27 million, is derived from six different funding sources spread over a period of 6 years. Operating revenues, estimated at $1.2 million annually, will be derived from earnings on an endowment fund, a special assessment district, fares, and advertising. Unlike a government agency, Historic Streetcar, Inc.—a nonprofit corporation formed to manage the operation of the system—will have the ability to invest available revenues to support future operation of the system. With system construction under way and two of eight new double-truck Birney replicas delivered, the private sector has responded with over $800 million in new capital investment along the line. In addition, the private sector has committed $6.5 million to date toward the endowment fund.


Enthusiasm for the return of streetcars to Tampa led to the formation of the Tampa and Ybor City Street Railway Society in 1984. Through the initial efforts of the Street Railway Society, the concept was discussed at meetings of civic associations, government agencies, chambers of commerce, and other places between 1984 and 1995 and culminated in a report outlining benefits, costs, and alternative routes that might comprise the system.

At the same time, the first wave of redevelopment was occurring in three areas, totaling approximately 121 hm2 (300 acres) in the heart of Tampa—the central business district (CBD), the Channel District, and historic Ybor City. Redevelopment activities included the construction of eight high-rise office buildings, a new convention center, the Florida Aquarium, the Ice Palace hockey arena, 1,400 new hotel rooms, and more than 80 entertainment establishments in Ybor City. This added thousands of short automobile trips because it is too far to walk between many of the venues during Tampa’s long, hot, and rainy summers.

In 1996, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) formed a partnership with the City of Tampa (COT) and the community to develop the first line of a streetcar system. The estimated cost of the first line segment at that time, including the construction of eight double-truck replica Birney streetcars, was $23 million. Working with the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and the FTA, the partnership put together a capital funding strategy for the project. The strategy relied on a contribution by the COT of $5 million and proceeds generated by the COT sale of gas tax bonds to provide short term financing that would be repaid from $18 million in grants to be received by HART over a period of 5 years.

Efforts by the partnership then turned to the development of a business plan to operate the system without subsidy by HART or the COT. The business plan estimated a revenue need of approximately $1.2 million annually. A number of potential revenue sources were explored and the partnership decided on a strategy that included revenues from four sources: (a) the creation of a new tax assessment district that covers the approximately 21 hm2 (300 acres) comprising the area served by the streetcar; (b) an endowment fund created from private sector contributions for naming rights of the system, streetcars, stations, and so forth; (c) advertising; and (d) fares.

The system is scheduled to begin operation in the late spring of 2002. Currently, facility construction is under way, the first two of eight Birney replica streetcars have been delivered, the nonprofit corporation has been formed and a board of directors appointed, the endowment fund has approximately $5 million currently earning a return and an additional $1.5 million in commitments, and the city will put in place the special assessment district by October of 2000.

Project Description

The first line segment extends from Ybor City through the Channelside and Garrison Seaport Districts to the Tampa Convention Center in the CBD. The system is designed to operate as a single-track bidirectional line with six passing tracks to permit the meeting and passing of streetcars traveling in opposite directions. This configuration provides the flexibility needed to allow up to eight streetcars to operate simultaneously and serve 12 station stops every 6 to 9 min in either direction. The ability to meet this schedule with this limited design configuration is possible because the streetcars have their own separate right of way (ROW) and thus are not competing with automobile traffic. The vast majority of the ROW, approximately 70 percent, is owned by public entities. The remaining 30 percent in private ownership is being donated to the project.

The line will operate with hard meets, and the location of the meets depends on the number of streetcars operating at any one time. All of the sidings are directional with spring-runthru switches to control meets. Power for the system will be 600 volts direct current (DC) supplied by an overhead power distribution system. Each of the stations includes a covered waiting area, a specially designed high block and bridge mechanism to comply with guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, each station site will have appropriate patron amenities, additional lighting, and security cameras.

Eight replica double-truck Birney streetcars capable of handling up to 84 passengers are being constructed for this first line. These will be the first streetcars with four wheelchair positions, door sensing edging, a voice attenuation digital display system, interior bicycle racks, insulation and air conditioning, and an inverter to convert DC power to alternating current to run the air conditioning system. Each car is equipped with four 122-cm (48-in.) doors and a 102-cm (40-in.) clear opening to accommodate wheelchairs.

Project Purpose, Goals, and Objectives 

The stated purpose of the project is to provide mobility and connectivity between Ybor City, the Channelside and Garrison Seaport Districts, and the Convention Center in a way that will stabilize existing and stimulate new economic development and preserve the historic character of the area. Goals and objectives to be realized as a result of project implementation include:

  • Completion of a community vision,

  • Provision of transit accessibility,

  • Historic preservation,

  • Provision of a safe and secure environment,

  • Provision of passenger convenience,

  • Enhancement of urban aesthetics,

  • Provision of an efficient and dependable operation,

  • Provision of intermodal connections,

  • Reduction of roadway congestion,

  • Connection of parking with venues, and

  • Improvement of air quality.

Project History

In 1984, a group of streetcar enthusiasts formed the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway Society. This organization was formed with one goal in mind—to promote and seek support for the resurrection of a streetcar system in Tampa. Society founder Thomas Ruddell authored a number of papers outlining a concept for a vintage streetcar system in Tampa to enhance mobility and economic development in the downtown and the surrounding area. In 1986, the COT commissioned a study to evaluate the feasibility of the society’s proposal.

The study, entitled A Feasibility Review of the Proposed Tampa and Ybor City Street Railway, by Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, Inc., concluded that the society’s proposal was feasible and that the system would enhance mobility and economic development as proposed. In addition to these conclusions, the study recommended the implementation of the streetcar system. Despite the study’s recommendation, the proposal lacked political support. However, members of the society remained undaunted, and their numbers continued to grow as they made presentations at numerous civic and governmental agency meetings in support of a streetcar system.

Whereas these early efforts by the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway Society provided the impetus needed to bring the first streetcar line to fruition, it was not until completion of the Downtown Tampa Transportation Master Plan in 1994 that the project finally took root. It was this study that recommended preservation of a transit corridor between the Convention Center and Ybor City, possibly for rail or a streetcar.

Project Planning and Development 

On April 19, 1995, the HART Board passed a resolution authorizing the creation of a streetcar task force to develop the concept for a streetcar line between Ybor City and the Convention Center in response to the recommendations of the Downtown Tampa Transportation Master Plan. Including more than 90 members from both the public and private sector, the task force was chaired by Michael English, a member of the planning commission and chairman of the Street Railway Society. The membership was then subdivided into four committees: steering, alignment, technology, and funding. Each meeting of the various committees was noticed and the public invited. Thirty meetings were held over a 6-month time period between the various committees. In December 1995, the committees’ recommendations were published in a stand-alone document titled Tampa’s Electric Streetcar. Concepts and data developed for this document formed the basis for the first grant application as a Livable Communities Initiative Project sponsored by the FTA.

On June 4, 1996, FTA Administrator Gordon Linton presented HART with a check for $1.4 million for the project, one of only two projects funded by the FTA in 1996 in this category. A staff technical team was formed in February 1996 to refine the concept developed by the streetcar task force and advance the project to the development phase. Led by representatives from HART and COT, the team included staff from the Hillsborough MPO, the FDOT, Hillsborough County, and Tampa Electric Company. Team goals and objectives included the refinement and selection of a preferred alignment and development of both capital and operating cost estimates.


Since the Downtown Tampa Transportation Master Plan had already identified a portion of the route from the Convention Center to Ybor City, the team focused its efforts on the Ybor City portion of the route. Approximately 15 alignment alternatives were developed and evaluated before the final alignment was selected. Once the alignment was established, the team identified station locations, developed ROW requirements, typical sections, design criteria, and capital cost estimates. The estimated cost of the project was $19.5 million (in 1996 dollars). 

Operating Plan

Using operating data obtained from other streetcar systems, stringline diagrams were developed to identify vehicle requirements and determine headways based on the proposed route and track configuration. This information was then used to develop schedules and establish an operating budget. The operating budget was estimated at approximately $1.2 million annually.

Project Financing

Armed with the information developed by the team, representatives from HART and COT made numerous presentations to civic organizations, business associations, and government agencies, for the purpose of seeking support for the project. Project financing includes both capital and operating funding.

Capital Funding

With the support of the public and the business community, HART and COT staff worked with various funding agencies to develop grant applications and reprioritize existing and proposed projects. By May of 1998, $20 million in capital funding had been identified for the project over a 5-year time frame.

Operating Funding

In October 1996, HART retained a consultant to develop a business plan and an implementation strategy for the plan. The plan was completed in February 1997. In addition to a funding strategy, the plan also identified institutional operating strategies and outlined how each might meet budget requirements. From a revenue perspective, the plan recommended a strategy that included the creation of a special assessment district, the creation of an endowment fund derived from private sector contributions for naming rights of the system, streetcars, stations, and so forth, and fares and advertising to support operations. To manage the operation of the system, garner private sector support, and provide for growth in revenue through investment, the plan recommended the creation of a nonprofit corporation and a board with members appointed by the HART Board and the mayor of Tampa. The plan was creative and heavily reliant on private sector support. This was important since both HART and COT were not agreeable to subsidizing operations. The plan also included the use of $700,000 in congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ) funds during each of the first 3 years of operation in lieu of endowment fund earnings. The strategy was to allow the endowment fund time to grow to a level that it would generate sufficient revenue to operate the system without government subsidy.

Because of the heavy reliance on private sector support, FDOT was not comfortable with the proposed plan. As a result, FDOT wanted to see the plan implemented with positive results or a commitment by the COT to cover any potential operating deficit before releasing state funds committed to project construction. In May 1997, HART retained the services of a consultant to develop marketing materials and a strategy to both market the endowment fund and solicit support from the business community, since residential properties would be exempt from the special assessment tax.

Project Implementation

In September 1997, with the support of the mayor, HART and the COT entered into a partnership to implement the project. The partners agreed that the implementation process should occur in two phases to provide refinement to the capital and operating cost estimates and to answer questions needed to solidify support of the project before committing to construction. The first phase focused on the completion of an environmental assessment (EA), 30 percent engineering, and initial implementation of the business plan. The second phase, currently under way, includes:

  • Final design and construction,

  • Identification of additional funding sources to support construction,

  • Creation of the institutional operating structure for the system, and

  • Establishment of the new tax assessment district and endowment fund to support operations.

Phase 1

This phase of the project was initiated in September 1997 and completed in May 1998.

Environmental Assessment

HART retained a consultant to prepare an EA and by February 1998 had received a finding of no significant impact from FTA on the project.

30 Percent Engineering

The COT retained a consultant in November 1997, and 30 percent engineering for the project was completed by May 1998. On the basis of this effort, a refined cost for the project was estimated at $23.5 million. As a part of the scope of work, the consultant also prepared performance specifications for the construction of the streetcars. HART issued a request for proposals in April 1998.

Business Plan

Efforts in this phase of implementation centered on the institutional operating structure for the system, establishment of support for the creation of the new tax assessment, and initiation of marketing efforts for the endowment fund.

Institutional Operating Structure

HART and the COT agreed to create a nonprofit corporation to oversee operation of the system and to select an operator based on competitive bid. They also agreed that HART could bid to provide the service. The corporation would be led by a board consisting of seven directors, four of whom were from the COT (and were appointed by the mayor) and three of whom were appointed by the HART Board of Directors.

Tax Assessment District The first step in this process was to determine the property values for the three existing districts to be served by the first streetcar line—the CBD and the Channel District, both represented by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, and Ybor City, represented by the Ybor City Development Corporation. Based on property values, it was determined that a millage rate of .00033 mill would generate approximately $400,000 needed to fund one-third of the cost of operation after 3 years, at which point the CMAQ funds were to be discontinued. HART and COT representatives subsequently made presentations to each of the organizations. The organizations then polled their memberships to determine whether sufficient support for the additional tax existed. Both organizations indicated that a majority of their members would support the additional taxation for the operation of the streetcar system.

Endowment Fund Marketing Endowment sponsorship was established at three levels:

  • System sponsorship (a $1 million contribution),

  • Streetcar sponsorship ($250,000 per vehicle), and

  • Station sponsorship ($75,000 to $125,000 per station, depending on station location).

The marketing campaign, led by the mayor, was kicked off in October 1997. During this phase of implementation, a number of verbal commitments were received.

Phase 2

Phase 2 of the project began in June 1998, following a commitment by the Tampa City Council to fund any potential operating deficit. Following this commitment, FDOT released the funds it was withholding for final engineering and construction. Completion of this phase is scheduled for December 2001 with the startup of operation.

Final Engineering

This effort is currently under way and is scheduled for completion in June 2000. Plans were completed early for two segments that were adjacent to large entertainment venues scheduled for opening in August 2000.


Construction on the first [approximately 457 m (1,500 ft)] of two segments began in November of 1999 and was completed in March of 2000. Construction on the second segment [approximately 366 m (1,200 ft)] began in April 2000 and is scheduled for completion in July 2000. Bids solicitation for the remainder of the line is scheduled for June 2000. Completion of construction is scheduled for October 2001.

Streetcar Construction

HART awarded a contract to GOMACO Trolley Company of Ida Grove, Iowa, for the construction of eight double-truck Birney replica streetcars on January 4, 1999. The first car was delivered on March 1, 2000, and the second on May 17, 2000. All of the cars are to be completed by March 2001.

Capital Funding

On the basis of the 90 percent design revised capital cost estimate of $27 million, HART—working with FDOT and the MPO—identified additional grant funding of approximately $6 million, for a total of $26 million in capital funding, and COT agreed to provide the additional $1 million. In December 1999, the city council authorized the sale of bonds supported by gas tax revenues to fund its original $5 million commitment, plus the additional $1 million for the project and $10 million to provide short-term financing during construction. HART will repay COT from subsequent grants up to $21 million.

Operating Funding

Like final design, this effort is currently under way. Some of the issues identified in Phase 1 have been resolved and others are still works in progress.

CMAQ Funds:  In addition to capital funding, HART has now identified $2.1 million to support the first 3 years of operation, at $700,000 per year.

Tax Assessment District:  In April 2000, Tampa. The city council issued a notice of intent to create a new assessment district covering 121 hm2 (300 acres). The city council will pass an ordinance that will impose a special assessment of .0033 mill on the approximately 121 hm2 (300 acres) comprising the CBD, Channel District, and Ybor City, following a public hearing in August 2000. The revenue will subsequently be collected by the tax collector on an annual basis and distributed by the city council to the nonprofit corporation.

Endowment Funding: Approximately $5 million in funding has been received to date. Commitments totaling an additional $1.5 million have also been received. Tampa Electric Company contributed $1 million in order to be the system sponsor and both SUNTRUST Bank and Time Warner Communications have sponsored vehicles for $250,000 each. In addition, the Tampa Port Authority, Carmine’s Restaurant, the Tampa and Ybor City Street Railway Society, and Household Finance have either bought or made commitments to sponsor a station.

Nonprofit Incorporation:  The Nonprofit Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws for Tampa Historic Streetcar, Inc., were completed and approved on November 24, 1998, by the state of Florida. Board members were appointed in October 1999 and the board convened for the first time in November 1999. The board is currently preparing a request for proposal to secure an operator for the system.

Ridership:  Ridership projections were first developed in late 1996, to support CMAQ grant applications for the project. At that time, ridership was projected at 264,000 for the first year of operation. However, with all the new development in the corridor ($800 million, including 1,600 upscale high-density units), 750,000 projected cruise ship passengers passing through Tampa’s port annually, and a 60 percent increase in convention bookings, this figure is now being revised. Early projections at this time appear closer to 600,000. Although the nonprofit corporation board has yet to establish a fare structure, the consensus is for a one-day pass in the range of $2.00 to $2.50 for adults. There could be single-trip fares as well as discounted fares for children and seniors. The bus system has a similar fare structure. Ideally, a fare structure and a fare instrument that could be used for both would provide residents and visitors alike with optimum flexibility.


Both HART and COT are committed to bringing the project to fruition, with an opening of the system in the late spring of 2002. Government agencies that partner to implement a project of this nature face many challenges; however, the results can be very satisfying. Just the announcement that the project was going to be implemented has resulted in heightened development activity all along the corridor. An estimated $800 million in new development is either currently under way or will be under way before completion of construction of the line. This includes approximately 1,600 units of upscale high-density residential development never contemplated at the time that the project was in the development phase. As most of these projects were not public during the development of the business plan, neither the taxable value nor the additional ridership potential was considered in the analysis.

The realization of what is happening along the first line has other areas of the city asking when they will get their lines. The second line, which is slated to be an extension into the core of the CBD, is already in the planning stages. In fact, HART has already received first $500,000 from FDOT to support environmental and engineering efforts for Phase 2, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Without the support of the community and without its refusal to give up, this project would not have been a reality. Community support was instrumental in securing the capital funding and, even more important, in obtaining funding to operate the system. Partnership with the community on this project will be the key to its success.



Steven M. Carroll

Director, Engineering and Development

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit

201 East Kennedy Boulevard, Suite 1600

Tampa, FL 33602

Phone: (813) 223-6831

Fax: (813) 223-7976

E-mail: CarrollS@Hartline.org



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