Hot Topics participants rode along Wednesday as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and fellow panelists Dan Tracy (one-time Sentinel transportation reporter) and Tim Jackson (board chairman of 1,000 Friends of Florida) discussed Central Florida transportation as it is and as it may be in the future.
Wednesday’s Hot Topics, moderated by Sentinel Opinions Editor Mike Lafferty, was inspired by the 2018 LWVOC Transportation Report Card (available for reading on the Transportation Committee’s page on the League web site: lwvoc.org). The League “awarded” regional transportation solid Ds in five categories: effectiveness and safety, funding, environmental impact, connectivity and political leadership – with, nevertheless, praise for Mayor Dyer’s effectiveness in some areas.
For his part, the mayor is enthusiastic about the SunRail train system, begun in 2014, as a harbinger of things to come. “You have to get the first phase in so you can do Phase Two” and so forth, he said. Already, the original run has been extended into Osceola County, and the panelists said the hoped-for Orlando International Airport link is huge because it could transport not only folks flying for business or pleasure but also airport employees.
As a system such as SunRail grows and adds more stops, it also generates more property taxes from development surrounding the stops, the likes of apartment complexes and businesses.
The hope is that with more stations and the link to the airport, the current “frequency” problems with SunRail can be addressed, meaning expanded hours and seven-days-a-week service.
All of this will cost money, and all agreed that area mass transit – Lynx buses, SunRail, etc. – is going to need a dedicated source of funding such as an additional penny from the resort tax or a sales-tax increase. Dedicated funding has been a factor in the success of mass transit in Charlotte, for instance. Panelists cited Austin, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Portland, Ore., as other cities with transit successes.
The LWVOC report also advocates for a “regional transportation vision,” towards which little progress has been made although Dyer said he is optimistic about working with newly elected Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.
Like roads, mass transit systems are never going to pay for themselves. Tracy noted that the building of roads and more roads has been done at the expense of developing other transportation modes and that it’s time to move into the 21st Century.
Dyer said a lot of younger folks are already moving on, choosing not to own cars but to use mass transit, services such as Lyft and Uber and/or bicycles, and that’s another part of the regional transportation dilemma – making roadways safe for bikers and pedestrians.
And get ready. “It’s painful for people to consider autonomous driving,” Jackson said. “Plus, there’s going to be more tech to come.”
Submitted by Dean Johnson