TAMPA, Fla. — Plans are underway to merge three regional transit authority into one council to serve the area.
The move would create a regional transit counsel for Hillsborough, Pinellas in Pasco Counties.
Mia Niewiadomska, a St. Petersburg resident who commutes to work in Tampa, knows all too well the struggles of navigating the current transportation system.
“Getting there in the morning isn’t that bad,” she said, “It’s about 35 minutes, but if I leave between 4:30 and 5:30 it’s take me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get home and that’s just a waste of time.”
It's drive times like that that the so-called Tampa Bay Metropolitan Planning Organization hopes to conquer by developing a regional transit plan for the tri-county.
Whit Blanton, the Executive Director of Forward Pinellas, emphasizes the importance of adopting a regional decision-making framework.
He points out that other regions in Florida and the country already have such systems in place, allowing them to compete more effectively for discretionary funds at the federal and state levels.
"We’d like to do a better job competing for those funds,” said Blanton.
The St. Pete Sun Runner provides a glimpse of how public transportation can alleviate drive times and enhance mobility within the region.
Niewiadomska and her partner, Matthew Wiszowaty, frequently use the service to attend Rays games.
“It’s nice that we can bypass the parking downtown,” said Wiszowaty.
Wiszowaty believes that expanding the scope of a more comprehensive regional transit plan would have even greater long-term benefits for the community.
“Someone like me, I travel a lot and go to the airport,” he said, “To be able to get into the airport without having to drive would be something I’d really like.”
Developing the tri-county plan will likely take years before it hits the road.