In March, Hillsborough Rides profiled Connect Tampa Bay, a grassroots transit advocacy organization. This issue, we highlight another group with a distinctly different take on transit, adding its voice to the ongoing dialogue about our transportation alternatives. The MPO welcomes constructive suggestions from all individuals or groups.
Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation (COST) has emerged as a grassroots organization advocating cost-effective, fiscally sound long term transportation solutions for the Tampa Bay region. Founded by a staunch rail transit critic, Sharon Calvert, COST believes in innovative private transportation and flexible rubber-tired modes such as Bus Rapid Transit. Recognizing that the debate about transportation alternatives is heating up, Calvert says, “COST just wants to be in the conversation. We want to get people engaged, and make sure they have all the information.”
COST advocates ways to make transportation function more efficiently, like coordinated traffic signals, “Next Bus Arrival” passenger information, Zipcars, telecommuting, and even technological innovations enabling cars to drive themselves. The group points to managed lanes operating today in Southeast Florida and wants to see such specially designated managed lanes for buses, carpools and individual drivers willing to pay a toll implemented here. COST believes the ultimate measure of success of a new transportation system is if it takes cars off the road, easing congestion and benefitting a large number of people.
Expressing skepticism about rail transit, COST questions ridership forecasts, cost estimates, long lead times required to develop rail, and the risk to taxpayers. In Calvert’s view, costly rail systems have depleted resources that could have been used for less expensive bus systems. “We are concerned about the transit-dependent,” she says. Even transit-oriented development raises questions. Regarding development around station areas, Calvert asks, “Is it mobility or economic development that we’re after?” In her view, “Dispersed development patterns aren’t all bad,” pointing out that many people prefer suburban living. In terms of paying for transportation, Calvert acknowledges, “We don’t have all the answers,” but says that COST leans towards user and mobility fees. She adds, “The funding has to come from somewhere” to address deficient roads and safety problems.
Regardless of the funding source, COST expects transparent decision-making and accountability. This is one point on which we can all agree.