Editorial: Transit transparency


Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.

Gainesville city commissioners are right to place a high priority on projects that improve the efficiency of the transit system and reduce congestion, but they need to do a better job making their case to the public.

Sometimes they're their own worst enemies. Case in point: Last week, commissioners approved a priority list for projects that might be funded if a transportation sales tax increase is placed on the November 2014 ballot.

They threw everything and the kitchen sink on the list, which ended up with a $427 million price tag that would be four times what an eight-year, one-cent sales tax would generate. The meeting descended into an already tiresome battle over the money committed to bus rapid transit.

City commissioners who voted to approve the list say the step was needed for the County Commission to move forward with possibly putting a tax referendum on the ballot. But they might be winning the battle and losing the war, hardening opposition to bus rapid transit before the public fully understands what it means.

City Commissioner Susan Bottcher correctly said at the meeting that there's already a stigma around the term bus rapid transit. The term "express park and ride" more accurately described the city's plans, she said.

No matter what it's called, the city needs to more clearly articulate its transit plans and how they'll benefit residents using all modes of transportation. While some flexibility might be necessary in its project list, the commission should provide the greatest amount of transparency and specificity possible to assure the public that they're not funding an expensive boondoggle.

Digging into the details about the city's transit plans reveals several measures that should have wide support. They include enhanced bus stops with real-time route information, programmed traffic signals to help move buses more quickly through traffic and express bus routes to Alachua, Newberry and Archer.

This community has previously shown support for taxing itself to fund schools, health care and land conservation. Yet it's been unwilling to pass a transportation initiative, with a roads-only measure last fall being the most recent to fail.

Expanding the measure to include transit, bicycle paths and pedestrian projects might be enough to earn success. But the initiative will also come at a time when rising utility rates due to the biomass plant might fuel public skepticism about local government.

The City Commission should be as specific and transparent as possible with its transportation plans, while we all need to do a better job fostering an informed and civil discussion on the issue. Whether it's called bus rapid transit or express park and ride, the public must be given confidence that the plan will truly cut congestion and make the transit system more efficient for everyone.

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