Rough road and fare increase may lie ahead for HARTline

The bus agency might face devastating budget cuts as it deals with the death of its executive.

Published May 8, 2007

TAMPA - The mood was somber Monday as Hillsborough County's bus agency considered an uncertain future more than a week after its executive director, Ray Miller, died of cancer.

"Ray brought a level of trust to this agency, " said County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who sits on the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board. "Whoever we find to replace him has to be dynamic, and just as honest as Ray."

The board unanimously approved finding a firm to search for an executive director of the $60-million agency. It also approved keeping Steven Roberts, its general manager of operations, as the interim executive director. Miller appointed Roberts to the post before he went on extended sick leave more than a month ago.

Roberts said he won't seek the position, which he said could be filled permanently in two to four months.

A 3 p.m. memorial will be held May 15 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to honor Miller, who was credited with calming a political storm that had engulfed the agency.

The road ahead could be rocky.

HARTline gets 60 percent of its budget from property taxes. Next month, state lawmakers will consider rolling back property taxes. Even slight relief for homeowners could cost HARTline millions.

"We're all nervous, " Roberts said.

The board also heard plans to increase fares in October 2009. Rates would climb from $1.50 to $1.75 for those who pay cash.

In other action, board members heard plans for extending downtown's streetcar, which now links Ybor City and the Channel District. The new stretch would be about a third of a mile along Franklin Street and connect the system to Whiting Street, where there is a heavily used parking garage.

Estimates of building costs are between $4-million and $6-million, but HARTline says the extension won't require local money.

Before Miller arrived, the streetcar system was a lightning rod for criticism. On Monday, the plans drew no scorn and little discussion among board members.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.