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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

‘Hostile’ Bill Leaves Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority’s Future In Question

Downtown Tampa's skyline pictured in the daytime.
Thomas Iacobucci
WUSF Public Media
The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority may disappear next year if a bill proposed by a local legislator passes.

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority may disappear next year if a bill proposed by a local legislator passes.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has proposed disbanding the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority.

According to Senate Bill 1130, which Brandes filed Monday, TBARTA’s funding would go to the local government members on its board, according to how much each contributes.

At a Forward Pinellas board meeting on Wednesday, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said the bill “would completely wipe out TBARTA from statute, which is problematic because it would put our region behind for decades.”

Brandes told Florida Politics Thursday that his bill would put the local members back in control.

“We have multiple organizations in the region that can easily do the job that they’re currently doing,” Brandes said. “They’re essentially just a planning entity that has devolved into planning futuristic concepts — not real, actual programs for actual infrastructure.”

According to its website, TBARTA was created by the Florida Legislature in 2007 to “advance regional transportation needs in Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties."

Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton expressed his frustration, saying that TBARTA was set up to be an “honest broker” of regional transportation in the area.

“It’s a testament to the failure of the legislature to create a sustainable funding mechanism for TBARTA,” he said. “And every year they have to go kind of hat in hand to the local governments for funding support, and to the legislature for funding support. That’s not a sustainable model.”

He added that Brandes’ proposal came at the same time as another bill that would change some of TBARTA’s procedures.

“It is a bit concerning when we had a friendly bill that we were working to improve and now we have this hostile bill,” Blanton said.

Under that other bill (HB 389, SB 422), proposed by Rep. Amber Mariano (R-Hudson) and Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), mayors on the board could send a designated alternate to vote in their place. Currently, they must be present at meetings to vote.

In a statement to WUSF, TBARTA Executive Director David Green said, “We are optimistic on the region’s future and look forward to continuing collaboration with our core partners, which include County Commissions, the Metropolitan Planning Organizations, local transit agencies, and the Florida Department of Transportation.”

TBARTA’s legislative subcommittee has scheduled an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the proposal.

The bill would go into effect July 1, 2022, if it passes. It currently does not have a companion bill in the House.

Christina Loizou is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second semester with WUSF.