A new nonprofit organization has launched to advocate for better transportation options across the Tampa Bay region.
The Tampa Bay Mobility Alliance (TBMO) includes representatives from approximately 30 businesses and civic organizations in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties. Tampa International Airport, Cigar City Brewing, the Pasco County Economic Development Council, Organize Florida, the Westshore Alliance, the Tampa Downtown Partnership, Tampa Innovation Partnership, and Armature Works developer SoHo Capital are among the group of founding members, along with businesses from a cross-section of industries
The organization provides a preview of its approach to advocacy work in a statement on its website:
“The alliance will be active across the entire Tampa Bay region. Members will write letters and scour the social media blogs to advance the cause of greater transportation options. Coalition members will speak before our boards of county commissioners and appear before our city councils. This group will also attend local transportation agency board meetings on a regular basis, from Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties. We want people to think that, ‘These guys are everywhere,’ and then ask, ‘How can I join?’”
Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, the leader of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, is a driving force behind the group. He says it all started in 2017, when he gave up his car keys for a week to rely solely on public transit. During his bus experiment, Sharpe says he was approached about working to improve transit and mobility options for the region.
He started to research and reviewe benchmarking trips local officials had taken to other areas of the country to see their transportation systems in person. From Los Angeles to Seattle to Watauga County, NC, Sharpe says areas with successful systems that provide for several modes of transportation often had a similar trait -- an engaged community advocacy group.
TBMO registered as a nonprofit organization in the Spring of 2018 but did not have its first official meeting until Tuesday at Tampa International Airport. Sharpe says the group spent the interim building a membership base from its tri-county focus area and staying out of the campaign for Hillsborough’s transportation sales tax.
“We’re just beginning to scratch the surface,” he says. “This is going to be a large group and it is not going to have monolithic thinking. We all support mobility options but there will be differences of opinion.”
The group plans to meet monthly. Sharpe says research and public engagement will come first, before the group begins to advocate on issues.
“If you come out of the gate and advocate for this and that, you lose people,” he says.
The TBMO launches at a potential inflection point for transportation in the Tampa Bay region. Hillsborough County voters passed a transportation sales tax referendum in 2018 after rejecting multiple prior efforts, although expenditures are on hold after a lawsuit filed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White. St Petersburg is planning a bus rapid transit system on the Central Avenue corridor and a larger BRT system is a possibility along all or some of I-275 from Pasco County into St. Pete. The Florida Department of Transportation is also in the planning stages of several projects to ease congestion and increase along I-275 and the potential addition of express toll lanes could also accommodate an express bus system.
Sharpe says TBMO will focus on large regional projects as well as on the smaller local projects that connect transit and mobility systems and position the region to compete with areas such as Silicon Valley.
Tampa entrepreneur Roberto Torres, the co-chair representing Hillsborough County, says businesses see that providing better bicycle, pedestrian, and transit options are key to attracting and retaining talent. Torres, with Black Tiger Café and Black & Denim, says the TBMO will provide a “safe space” to talk about transportation and hopefully reach “common ground solutions.”
Pasco EDC President/CEO Bill Cronin is co-chair representing Pasco. Andrew Machota, the CEO and founder of New Town Connections, a social club for young professionals, is the co-chair representing Pinellas.