A few weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Times produced an amazing look at the quagmire that is Tampa Bay transportation.
Among some of the most damning findings:
- Out of the country’s 30 largest metro areas, the region ranks 29th in four of six common ways the federal government measures public transit coverage and usage.
- Tampa Bay spends far less on transit each year than any other major metro area.
- Almost every other top-20 metro area has at least 600 buses. Tampa Bay has the fewest, about 360.
- Denver, Pittsburgh and Baltimore spend twice as much on bus alone as Tampa Bay, despite being similar sizes.
Those are just the biggest points. The story details several Tampa area workers and their struggle getting from their homes to their place of work.
While the focus of the article was specifically on employment and transportation, we could easily make the connection to recreation and transportation. If Tampa Bay is struggling to get people to work, are they also struggling to get people to leisure activities such as the beach, downtowns, or sports stadiums? How many buses pass Tropicana Field? Are there bus stops near the Trop? How often do buses pass? How many people can reasonably be expected to take public transportation to games?
Tampa Bay will never be New York City, where thousands of people take the train to the games after work. Tampa Bay doesn’t have the population nor the infrastructure to make that happen in the next 100 years.
But even against comparable markets, Tampa Bay is struggling to get people to sporting events. Especially baseball.
I have often compared the Tampa Bay baseball market to Pittsburgh. The two metro areas have the same sports (MLB, NFL, and NHL), they have similar populations, and both the Rays and Pirates were subject to relocation rumors when attendance was a struggle.
The Tampa Bay Times article depicted how many jobs people could get to via public transportation in various cities. For many cities, sports stadiums are along a major job and transportation corridor. Here is the Pittsburgh transportation/job map followed by a Google map plotting PNC Park, home of the Pirates.
Here is a similar map for St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field.
The inability of public transportation to get people to Tropicana Field is definitely a factor in Rays attendance. I don’t have the numbers of how many people take public transportation to Pirates games, but the potential to take public transportation is definitely greater in Pittsburgh.
The Tampa Bay Times also compares Tampa Bay transportation to Phoenix. Both regions have relatively new MLB teams, have extensive Spring Training in February and March, and according to the Times,
Phoenix and Tampa Bay faced many of the same challenges in the mid ’90s. Both Arizona and Florida are small-government states with limited transit funding. Both struggle with car cultures and swaths of sprawl, though Phoenix’s is much worse, ranking 14 spots behind Tampa Bay in density among the top 50 metro areas.
Phoenix politicians, however, invested heavily in public transportation increasing ridership from 24th nationally to 14th. Tampa Bay’s ridership rose only from 28th to 26th.
Public transportation affects so much of life in metro areas. Investment in public transportation is a necessity that Tampa Bay is sadly lacking in. Jeff Vinik of the Lightning calls it the “Achilles Heel” of Tampa Bay’s economic growth. And his team plays in Downtown Tampa.
Rays ownership hasn’t been as vocal about referendums and the current plight of Tampa Bay public transportation. On one hand, they are not as invested in the community economically as Vinik, who is rebuilding a significant portion of Downtown Tampa. On the other, there are so many other factors and self-inflicted wounds affecting attendance for the Rays to focus on public transportation as a cure-all. People would surely throw those factors at the Rays as deflection from the public transportation mess.
But there is no doubt, public transportation is a HUGE issue affecting baseball attendance, leisure activities, work/life balance, and every other facet of life in Tampa Bay.