Recent plans to improve transportation in Tampa Bay through the expansion of the transit system, a proposed high-speed ferry and a new intermodal center next to Interstate 275 are causing young professionals to join the conversation about transportation.
Emerge Tampa Bay hosted a panel at the University of Tampa’s Vaughn Center Wednesday night to allow young business leaders to speak with policy makers about transportation developments in the area. Emerge Tampa Bay is a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce program that is composed of young business leaders between the ages of 21 and 35.
During the event, these millennials were able to talk to and network with professionals from around the area to discuss politics and transportation.
“I thought it was an amazing opportunity for people in my generation to get involved,” Ashley Matthews, public relations and communications assistant at Elevate, Inc. said. “Young people going to events like this and staying engaged… is essential.”
These young professionals got the chance to question local elected officials and leaders about what is going on with these transportation expansions. One of the main questions that was asked was how are these extensions of the transit system going to help people who don’t use it.
“Whether you use public transportation or not, every single person in this county can benefit from more transportation options,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said. “If we get more cars off the road, that's more time that you can spend with your family, your business... You will save money on gasoline. You will help the environmental factors in our county.”
That is exactly what the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is trying to do with the Greenlight Pinellas transportation plan. After the Moving Hillsborough Forward referendum failed in 2010, PSTA officials used it as a basis for its own plan for the expansion of transportation in Pinellas County.
The 2010 referendum proposed earmarking a penny sales tax to improve the transit system. The Greenlight Pinellas calls for something a little bit different.
“The Pinellas County Commission just made [the decision] to eliminate the property tax that funds the limited system that we have now, when the sales tax kicks in,” CEO of PSTA Brad Miller said.
The improved transportation will make us more competitive with Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte, said Pinellas County commissioner and PSTA board chair Ken Welch.
It also means that people who use the transit will spend less time on the bus than they do now, he said. The amount of time locals spend commuting to and from work will be also shortened.
People like Lyndi Jordan, a scientist at Terra Environmental Services in St. Pete, won’t have to worry about a three hour long daily commute to work if the referendum passes. That's a total of 6 hours of commuting by bus just to get to and from work.
There are a lot of people who ride the bus, but more people would ride if it was reliable and shorter, Jordan said.
“Most people who ride the bus can't go to events like these because of the bus schedules,” Jordan said. “That's why they don't really have a voice in what goes on.”
That is why it is important for young people to be involved in politics and stay informed, said Katharine Eagan, Interim CEO of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. “Call all your decision makers and tell them that you are a voter and tell them what is important to you.”
With the Emerge Tampa Bay town hall, local officials were reminded of how important it is to involve younger generations in policy making.
“Just like you are the future of this community, transportation has to be a part of the future of our community if we want to continue to be a robust community,” Beckner said. “To grow and create more jobs and create economic opportunities, transit has to be a… part of it.”
To build a better transportation system, both the younger people and the business community need to get involved.
“The business community carries a different voice in a different way,” Eagan said. “If you and your businesses see [transportation] as an economic generator and a change-maker… come out and say as a business owner what is important to you. Vote.”
On Nov. 4, registered voters in Pinellas County can vote on the Greenlight Pinellas referendum.