Robert Trigaux, business columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, is fond of saying that the Tampa bay Economy will not be “relevant” if we don’t have his vision of so-called “modern” mass transit. He has been part of the Greenlight propaganda machine pushing the highest sales tax in the state to build a train form St. Petersburg to Clearwater with no link to Tampa. His prior propaganda piece from Sunday 10/5/14 had this headline “To be relevant, mass transit a must” (print version of paper). That story was full of faulty assumptions with no data to support his assertions, attacks on critics equating them to Trekkies (Star Trek fans) and regurgitated Greenlight Pinellas talking points from the $2 million campaign backed by major corporate cronies. On Sunday 10/12/14 he published a piece with the print headline “It’s hard work to get there” where he cited research on ability to reach jobs “by foot and [public] transit”. It was not a surprise to see the Tampa bay region painted in a bad light, and Trigaux reached the conclusion that “what these three maps really indicate is economic mobility” and described them as “Critical measures of economic competitiveness”. His theory centers on the faulty assertion by Greenlight that the $2.4 billion rail plan will attract companies to relocate here and younger, more talented workers.
An analysis of the study shows that Trigaux’s conclusion are best defined as “Under a Rock” by the Sun Beam Times Truth Check.
Robert Trigaux’s Faulty conclusions on economic impact of transit can best be defined as “Under a Rock”.
“What these three maps really indicate is economic mobility”.
These maps are “Critical measures of economic competitiveness of U.S. Metro Areas”.
“Companies…will shy away from Tampa Bay” (because of “poor” walking/public transit travel to work).
“Tampa Bay’s…economy will be outdistanced by…dozens of other metro areas” (without a rail system).
- The Tampa Bay Economy has better growth since 2000 compared to Denver and Pittsburgh, the cities featured by Trigaux.
- Study was of WALKING TO WORK within 30 minutes and use of public transit, not reaching jobs by car. Currently 1.6% of Tampa Bay area workers use public transit to get to work.
- Study was of TAMPA and not Pinellas County specifically. Greenlight’s highest sales tax in the state proposes rail only in Pinellas County.
- Tampa was compared to cities that were much larger and denser, like New York and Chicago.
- Businesses don’t relocate to cities based on availability of public transit.
Trigaux’s central theory is that a “better” or “modern” transit system with rail will ensure our economy is competitive and stays “relevant”. By the most relevant measure of an economy’s productivity, Tampa Bay is already beating Denver and Pittsburgh. Despite their massive investment in public transportation, Tampa Bay has had stronger GDP growth than Denver and Pittsburgh from 2000-2012, the last year of data available. A July 8 evaluation here at the Sunbeam Times used data from the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis to look at changes in Gross Domestic Product in cities with and without rail. Those cities that were similar in size to the Tampa Bay area with rail had about the same average GDP growth at 4% per year from 2000-2012. However, Tampa Bay outperformed the cities highlighted by Trigaux despite their better “accessibility score”. The Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater area demonstrated 4.05% growth in GDP from 2000-2012 while Denver’s was 3.91% and Pittsburgh’s was 3.45%. The bay area outperformed Denver and Pittsburgh despite better accessibility scores of Denver and Pittsburgh (9 and 22 respectively compared to Tampa Bay’s 33) and despite significantly more use of public transit elsewhere. According to the US Census bureau, 18.8% of Pittsburgh residents use Public transit to get to work, compared to Denver’s 7.45% and the 1.6% average of both Hillsborough and Pinellas. (To see data, go to links, enter city or county name at link and go to the “Business and Industry” tab and open the “Commuting charachteristics” report).
So despite more jobs within 30 minutes or walking or through public transit, and much higher use of public transit in Denver and Pittsburgh, the Tampa Bay Area still had better economic growth with a 4.05% increase in GDP growth from 2000-2012.
The Study Cited by Trigaux has problems.
First University of Minnesota study looked not only at transit and travel by train and bus. It also looked at reaching work by walking or by the “last mile” of walking from the transit drop-point to the job. There is an ignored and underlying assumption by Trigaux: that it is desirable to walk to work! Trigaux ignores the heat of Florida and the torrential and dangerous summer lightning storms that would make walking 30 minutes to walk undesirable. Walking is a theme of Greenlight’s logo and paid elected-official-turned-political-consultant Jeff Danner told the St. Pete downtown neighborhood association last week that everyone needs to learn to “walk more” as part of the Greenlight transit vision. Really?
Trigaux uses a study that ranks major metropolitan areas with very dense populations to compare to the Tampa Bay Area. Certainly, people that live in downtown Chicago, New York are going to have a commute by walk or public transit of under 30 minutes. Comparing Tampa to these cities is like comparing apples to hand grenades. For instance the top ten accessible cites were: 1.New York, 2.San Francisco, 3.Los Angeles, 4.Washington, 5.Chicago, 6.Boston, 7.Philadelphia, 8.Seattle, 9.Denver, and 10.San Jose. Only two of the top ten are in the same category of metro size as the Tampa Bay area (Denver and San Jose in the one million to three million category). Finally, this study was of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, and not of Pinellas County alone. Tampa and Hillsborough residents are not being asked to pay the highest sales tax in the state to build a train from Clearwater to St. Petersburg that does not go to Tampa.
Businesses don’t relocate to areas based on transit
For 47 years the moving company Atlas Van lines has done a well-known survey of corporations that relocate. 353 companies were surveyed recently for the 2014 report. Their latest study does not list transit as a motivating factor for relocating. The top motivating factor is lack of local talent, followed by Economic conditions and the real estate market. The Greenlight crowd likes to suggest that such talent will be attracted to the Tampa bay area by having more transit. However a recent evaluation by the Sunbeam Times comparing Pinellas county and Mecklenburg, the home of Charlotte, NC and it rail system envied by Greenlight shows otherwise. Charlotte’s County had a more severe loss in younger population in the 25-34 age group than Pinellas did between 2000 and 2012 (-10.1% to -7.4%). If the Greenlight “the Young will Come” theory were true, Charlotte would have had a gain in percentage of young people as a total of population, not a loss that was larger than in Pinellas county (the losses are in fact due to an aging population moving from one age bracket to the next over ten years). A better solution to solving a desire for corporate relocation to Pinellas County would be to ensure that we had a better, more talented population of workers. That would be better accomplished by evaluating our failing local government-run schools or in training people for vocations. Creating a low tax, low-regulation environment would help. Surely the Suncoast’s natural beauty and great weather is a powerful attracting force, but something must be done about a school system that seems to focus more on employing union members than educating our children. Finally, placing the highest sales tax in the state on the citizens of Pinellas County is not a way to want to make them stay here and provide a talent pool for companies. The Greenlight claim of attracting millennials with rail also falls flat, since even the very biased and propaganda-filled study of the American Public Transportation Association shows that millennials prefer cars 2:1 over public transit, with cars being their top choice for travel. They also drive far more often as they age from their mid-20’s to the 30 something age group (see pages 12-13 of study linked above).
To suggest that an economy can be improve by building a $2.4 billion train line ten years from now between Clearwater and St. Petersburg is an arrogant claim. It is common of the hubris of the central economic planners who bring things like “shovel-ready jobs”, “stimulus programs” and corporate “incentive” programs for economic development (with all of their failures). The Greenlight Plan is nothing more than a crony slush fund to ensure fat government contracts to build unneeded trains and real estate re-development opportunities for wealthy speculators, land development companies and the finance firms that will sell them loans.
If Mr. Trigaux were an honestly evaluating the economic impact, he would see the folly in asserting that Greenlight Pinellas will produce economic growth and prevent our economy from becoming “irrelevant”. But it is hard to see the truth when you have become a political propagandist living “Under a Rock”.