Moving People Around Pinellas
I'm not a big fan of so-called light rail and much less of a fan of high speed rail unless the latter really does mean sustained high speed over a long distance - kind of like airplanes do. That, of course, is part of the problem. Rail is reaching back to old, inflexible technology, that originally replaced the even more inflexible and rigid canal systems. Over time, railroads gave way to the flexibility and individual convenience of the car.
There are exceptions, of course: the eastern seaboard megapolis rail transit systems and the nostalgic movement to preserve some railroads through the enormously expensive Amtrak organization. The first is relatively efficient and effective; the latter grossly costly and inefficient. However, these as well as all the other public transit systems in the country are subsidized by the taxpayers. None makes money nor recovers, directly, the capital investment required to start them and keep them going.
They do, however, serve a public service. In congested areas they move people about relatively fast and relieve to an extent traffic congestion (don't look too closely in New York City, Washington, D. C. or Los Angeles). All those cities also have extensive automobile taxi services as higher cost alternatives. But, the systems are the biggest assist to people who can't afford to own, park or house a car. A car, at a minimum costs $4,000 to $8,000 to own. That's the trade-off. Sell your car and you'll probably be dollars ahead if you use public transportation (including cabs) and aren't too worried about time.
So, it really comes down to money and time.
What does this have to do with Pinellas County? In 2014 voters are likely going to be asked to approve a one-per cent sales tax increase to help fund a more full developed public transit system as well as a 24 mile light rail line from downtown Clearwater to downtown St. Petersburg or vice-versa if you're jealous about which come first. The tax would replace the transit tax now applied to the property tax. That now is .7305 mills.
The difference is that Pinellas County is not only the smallest county, but is the most densely populated. Those two factors make a difference, at least in my mind. It makes the operation more viable although it will always have to be subsidized by the taxpayers and that's whether or not the operation becomes a patronage and benefits pit, as some have. Also, the transit system has an increasing ridership. What Pinellas voters have to decide is how much do they want and need a better, improved (more buses, more stops) system and what they're willing to pay for it. The proposal now is the one per cent sales tax.
The light rail plan is straightforward - here to there in 16 stops and in about one hour through a heavily congested area. It would also use some existing tracks of CSX. It still won't be very flexible, but unlike buses doesn't have to stop for red traffic lights. But, it can't make 90 degree turns, either. As for visions of people using the system to go night club hopping at all hours of the night, it's better to focus on the more utilitarian tasks of moving people to and from work and meeting everyday individual needs that include other kinds of recreational activity.
However, don't expect much less traffic nor fewer cars on the roads. It just isn't going to happen.
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