Light Rail Surprise

Light rail ridership supposedly surprised Phoenix. Instead of the anticipated daily commuters from surrounding communities, people were coming into downtown on weekends and evenings for the restaurants, bars and entertainment. Also seemingly unanticipated was the continuing need to heavily subsidize operations, much of it coming from outside the downtown area. If light rail had been more accurately promoted as a downtown Phoenix economic development program, would the cities of Tempe and Mesa have agreed to be taxed for it?


The proposed light rail system centered on Downtown Tampa is eerily similar, but for the first 35 years only the city of Tampa is scheduled to get rail. How does that benefit commuters from the rest of Hillsborough? If the answer is plain-jane bus service for unincorporated Hillsborough, where are the ridership studies, and why don’t we have those buses already?


Long ago, Disney knew that trains were sexy and that people would stand in line just to ride them in a circle: he built many sets of tracks in his parks. So let’s get serious about the fun inherent in rail and talk about who benefits and who pays. Downtown Tampa could become another Downtown Disney with the right rail system that would pay back the city of Tampa the costs of construction. Only then might the other cities and the rest of unincorporated Hillsborough agree to be taxed to build connecting rail lines that would also eventually pay for themselves.

<IMHO> Fred Jacobsen


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