Former commissioner looks at developing new mass transit system

Former County Commissioner for Hillsborough County, Mark Sharpe is looking into a new mass transit system for Tampa with the hope of incorporating pre-existing options such as the Bull Runner into the new system. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

A mass-transit circulatory system that could be available to students this summer that may also provide the Tampa community a much more efficient form of transportation.

The Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he has plans to change current public transit and create a circulator system that will effectively reduce wait times and avoid nonspecific stops. Using shuttle transportation, the transit plans to take riders on a circular route around Tampa.

Sharpe said current public transit, such as the Bull Runner, is underfunded and flawed for many reasons.

“One, we just don’t have enough buses,” Sharpe said. “The other thing is that we as a community don’t understand the value of transit so we just really haven’t focused on it.”

This circulator system that’s in the works is set to connect thousands of people to places such as Busch Gardens, Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital, University Mall, USF and many other small businesses surrounding the USF area.

“We’re looking to create more business opportunity for the folks near the campus who would love to be able to serve students,” Sharpe said.

Along with supporting businesses, the transit system could alleviate traffic congestions on Tampa roads. Sharpe said the massive transit will also helps students get to where they need to go without too much hassle.

“Students who have a car can go out to maybe get some lunch and not lose their parking spot,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe, who has used public transit multiple times before, has said the biggest problem is that the system operates under a fixed number of routes and times. This leads to long wait times that often frustrate riders who desire to get to their destinations quickly.

“I’ve spent the last two hours trying to take a bus from South Tampa to the airport,” Sharpe said. “It’s ridiculous.”

According to Sharpe, the circular transit would most likely avoid this inconvenience. He plans to have a maximum wait time of eight to 15 minutes at the most, but this all depends on the amount invested for the project.

“The goal is to keep it at eight minutes,” Sharpe said. “The more money I raise, the better the opportunities and frequencies because that means we could have more vehicles.”

In addition to getting rid of the time-gap issue, the first-mile/last-mile transit problem is what Sharpe seeks to eliminate. This term is used to describe the distance people have to walk either to the bus or from the bus.

“The challenge is you get there and you still have a half-mile to go to wherever location,” Sharpe said. “So this system is designed to help people who have used another transportation system and now needs something for a short trip or a short ride.”

Although the massive transit system is something that’s still being planned, Sharpe said he is set on partnering with places such as Busch Gardens, Florida Hospital and possibly some hotels around the USF area. These partnerships are a possible funding method for the project.

Partnerships could also include the Florida Department of Transportation (District 7) and Hillsborough County. Sharpe is confident that both the agency and the county will lend their hand to investments.

Sharpe has made it clear that he doesn’t seek to replace public transportation in the Tampa community. Instead he said the transit system will work jointly with current public transits so that efficiency can be achieved.

“The goal is that this will augment the Bull Runner and all transits,” Sharpe said. “They won’t have to cover the same routes, so (people) could use them interchangeably.”

Ultimately, Sharpe said he aims to have people not need to use their cars. With plans to have the system powered through an app, Sharpe is hopeful that students off-campus or on-campus, employees and other community members could eventually depend solely on public transit.

“Fewer cars means less congestion, less pollution and more convenience,” Sharpe said. “But this may take some time.”

To see this project come to life, Sharpe said the community needs to be willing to make an investment to public transportation.  

“If the community makes the investment then it will benefit,” Sharpe said. “It’s just a matter of making the investment and building.”