There are so many different modes of transportation available for Tampa, I thought it might be easier if I break down some of the various types before I share my thoughts on the solutions:
We are the only major city that doesn’t use its extensive network of waterways for transportation. That’s a disgrace. It sends a message to the world that we aren’t very innovative. Let’s change that. As mayor I would aim to fully utilize our waterways for transportation and mobility. I will forge partnerships with innovative companies who are exploring new technology for water vehicles so that we can effectively connect the communities across our beautiful bay.
Until hyperloop becomes a reality, rail is still the single most effective way to transport people in mass quantities conveniently and easily. So why don’t we have it already? My feeling is because we keep trying to create this master plan fully approved that entails a system reminiscent of the London Underground. We need to think smaller to get bigger. Let’s get one rail from point A to point B. The most logical place seems to be connecting USF to the downtown core. Keep it completely inside the walls of the city so the county doesn’t need to get involved. Once we have a proof of concept, then other areas will start showing interest. Rail is one of those things where everyone fights it until they have it, then everyone fights to get it in their neighborhood once they see it. While this is a great solution to moving mass quantities of people, I’m absolutely certain that rail should NOT be the first thing we do in creating advanced rapid transit solutions. Why? It has such a bad reputation currently, from so many failed attempts, there is a feeling of futility with rail. And if we look at rail solutions last, it forces us to create more innovative solutions which may make it irrelevant anyway.
When and if we ever get to that point where rail is a real solution, we need to brand it and build it correctly. The public has to see it more as a “mobile office” than a public transport system. If you make it more than just about sitting in a tube and moving from one place to the other, we will have a higher chance of getting the public on board.
Automation is a disruptive technology that can be properly utilized to complement our current transportation infrastructure. Autonomous vehicles are one element to solving our transportation dilemma but not the entire answer, and I feel that too many people of influence see autonomous as the solution to our transportation problem. It won’t be, and here’s why:
Elon Musk, arguably the most knowledgeable thought leader in the field of autonomous vehicles, said, and I quote, “autonomous vehicles will not solve the connection problem – it will make it worse.” Why? Because if you make driving or riding in a car an even better experience, more people will want to experience it. If you don’t have to steer your car, or manage the pedals, and instead you can just take a nap, answer emails, or facebook stalk your ex for hours on end, you probably wouldn’t mind driving hours to work.
I will collaborate with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Hillsborough County Commission to properly deploy disruptive technology into our city while being sensitive to how we interact with autonomous technology and protecting our citizens. In other words, let’s get autonomous, but let’s not get carried away. It’s not the traffic savior we are looking for.
Absolutely no technology is off the table for me. Including Vertical Take Off Landing (VTOL)aircrafts for our city. Uber has put out a white paper exploring the possibility of aerial autonomous rideshare. Cities like Dubai and Singapore are also implementing such systems. In order for Tampa to compete on a global stage, these are the types of conversations we need to have. Our region’s weakest point is now our greatest opportunity; we are so far behind in infrastructure that we can leapfrog ahead. As your next Mayor, I will build a city that will rival any metropolitan area in the world.
Hyperloop, Tesloop and Beyond
As hyperloop enters the scene, they will be looking for key locations to install the loops and they want to explore all different platforms. Above ground, below ground, and underwater.
Our bay is quite possibly the best location on the planet for them to install an underwater hyperloop. With an average drag of only 12 feet in the bay, boring the tunnels would be far more efficient, much safer, and exponentially easier than deep cold water areas like the English Channel. It’s also much shorter, making the install faster, more affordable, and less of a risk to hyperloop and the city who is awarded a beta site. We could be that beta site!
Our city needs to embrace new technology and disruption properly while respecting our communities and our history. This is the delicate balance that is necessary to propel our region forward. Instead of relying on decades of studies on what we should do, we need to begin to act and interact with the most innovative ideas and companies around the world and explore whether or not these programs should be adopted in Tampa. Will they all work? No. Should we take a serious look at them all? Yes, let’s leave no option off the table.
How Will I Solve the Transportation Problem?
The question presupposes the Mayor actually can. Here’s the truth. Government has a very important role in our lives. It’s to do the things that we otherwise as individuals cannot do. Individually we can’t protect ourselves from crime all the time, so we have police. We can’t protect ourselves from a fire burning out of control, so we have firefighters. We can’t build roads as citizens so we need the government to come in and do that. But transportation CAN be solved at an individual level. I know this because it’s being caused at an individual level. We all COULD carpool, but the majority of us prefer not to. We all COULD take the bus (by the way if we did, you would see new routes popping up overnight making it so much easier to get around), but when we as citizens, refuse to be flexible in how we get from point A to point B, the problem just gets worse. Do you realize that if every person driving from St. Pete to Tampa (and vice versa) carpooled with 3 other people each day, the freeways would be so wide open that the extra time it takes to drop off the other 3 people at their offices would still be less than the amount of time we all spend stuck in gridlock? My path to fixing the problem starts at the cause, I will campaign to change the flexibility of people who drive. This won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy, but it’s possible. We, as a community, can shift the way we think, but it takes repetition, it takes consistency, and it takes brave people at the level of citizenship to step forward and say, “I’ll be the first”. We are seeing this happen right now, nationwide, in our behavior as men and how we treat women. Because of some brave women who have stepped forward, others are now following, and even more will in the future. I promise you, there’s not a man in America who isn’t re-evaluating how he’s communicated to women over the years. We can shift our flexibility in how we get from point A to point B, and again, it starts with just a few brave leaders.
We can develop technology to assist us in executing that flexibility. I will challenge local tech companies to develop carpooling apps that rival the fluidity of Uber and Lyft. There is no reason why we can’t have citizens download a carpooling app that says where they are, and where they are going, and have it immediately pop up a list of people going in the same direction and along the same route. Now think about this: If you could still drive to work each day, AND get reimbursed for your fuel just for picking a few people up along the way and dropping them off before you get to your destination, would you be willing to do it? If you knew there was someone driving your direction and could pick you up and you wouldn’t have to mess with driving but could get to your place quicker and it would only cost you $1.00 to do it each way, would you be up for leaving your car at home? This technology is possible, and the amount of money we would save as a city to have it developed would be offset by the amount of money we would save on having to repair our roads and build additional lanes. That’s the first step and it needs to happen before we start suggesting other expensive options that will require county, state, and federal reimbursement.
Step 2 is to create shortcuts, and we have no better shortcut to get across the bay than the water. The CrossBay Ferry needs to be a permanent fixture in our bay and I will push this forward and make it one of my highest priorities. It’s a good idea because it works, it’s fun, it creates a greater level of joy in people’s lives, and it’s a transportation solution that appeals to all levels of income, not just the struggling class who can’t afford a car.
This leads me to step 3. Develop multiple modes of transportation that appeal to the middle and upper class of our economy. Anyone who studies urban transportation knows that if you develop mass transit for the poor, it won’t succeed because the majority of the population will never want to experience it. We need transportation that is fun, a pleasant experience, and that something that anyone, regardless of their economic class, would enjoy. This is where innovation, and “out-of-the-boxcar” thinking can finally take off and redefine our city.
And it’s not rail. Not yet. It’s much higher up. Some may even say it’s crazy, but it would be a natural solution to connect the rooftops of our downtown core – Enclosed Gondolas or Ski Lifts (What I refer to as Sky Lifts). It’s a proven technology that is resistant to inclement weather. It can withstand high winds, and provides protection from the elements. We could strategically place perpetual motion gondolas to help transport people from Downtown to the islands, South Tampa, University of Tampa, Water Street (Channelside), and Ybor. Once you can get to and from any of these areas easily and enjoyably, we will have solved the first mile / last mile dilemma and increased the appeal to have cars parked on the outskirts of the city center. Once these are working, phase 3 would be to connect the airport to downtown which would require no additional zoning or residential upset than we have already experienced because we can build the tracks right along 275. The footprint for a gondola is a tiny fraction of the space needed for rail. It’s a damn pole in the ground! We have room for that!