Mass Transit: Bus
The Polk Transportation Planning Organization conducted a Countywide Transit Study in 2003 which provided evidence that increased coordination and cooperation among Polk transit providers was needed. The Polk Regional Transportation Organization (RTO) was created in 2004 to increase coordination of the existing transit services and lead the transition to a new countywide transit system. The RTO Board members, along with the Transition Committee, worked on drafting the legislation presented to the Florida Legislators in 2007 to form the Polk Transit Authority. On July 27, 2007, Governor Crist signed Bill 777, officially forming the Polk Transit Authority. The Polk Transit Authority Board of Directors was seated and held its first meeting on February 27, 2008, in Haines City.
In 2009, the Center of Urban Transportation Research was contracted by the Polk Transportation Planning Organization and the Florida Department of Transportation to conduct a Comprehensive Operational Analysis of the Winter Haven Area Transit system and the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District. The purpose of this Analysis was to evaluate the existing transit services identifying potential improvements.
Along with the Comprehensive Operational Analysis, the Polk Transit Authority (PTA) contracted with Runways Transportation, Inc., to conduct a Master Strategic Plan, the Authority’s Business Plan. The Plan identifies the strategies and procedures to consolidate the existing county transit service efficiently and identified future transit corridors and services to expand transit services countywide including staffing, operational revenues and expenses, and facility and capital needs and expenses.
After these two studies were completed, the Authority’s Board asked the Board of County Commissioners to place the referendum asking for the voters of Polk County to vote for a ½ cent sales surtax to fund the Polk Transit Authority. The Board of County Commissioners approved this request on December 16, 2009. Polk County staff and Polk Transit Authority staff then worked together to develop a Public Education Program to educate the citizens of Polk County with the countywide transit plan.
The referendum went before the voters for approval in November of 2010. Unfortunately, the funding of countywide transit was not approved by the voters.
The In-kind Support Staff of the Authority, which is provided by the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District, Polk County Board of County Commissioners, and the Polk Transportation Planning Organization, along with the Polk Transit Authority Board of Directors are currently focusing on the next steps for the Authority. These steps include analyzing the results of the referendum, discussions with focus groups and countywide surveys, and establishing desire of County officials and citizens to gear up for another referendum attempt in 2012 or delay until 2014 or later.
Looking toward the future, the PTA plans to secure public support and local funding for the Polk Transit Authority to operate a countywide transit system. The timing of a referendum to fund the system will be made by the Polk Transit Authority Board.