Guest Column: Effective public transportation for our city


Guest Column: Effective public transportation for our city

Ron Berben
St Augustine, FL

Dear Editor and Historic City News readers:

After years of disappointment, Floridians, especially in our area, have all but given up on the dream of a viable passenger rail service for St. Augustine, along the East coast or to anywhere else in the state.

Government funding would be promised and rescinded. The politicians were sent to Tallahassee to insure that no public funds were “wasted” on a historically bad business decision for a state or the federal government. When government gets into the transportation business, voters remember from the past…the endeavor becomes more of a service and less of a business as promised and they understand it.

It was all but dead…but now a spark — and over two billion dollars from Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), the government is out of the picture and passenger rail is growing to our south. Regardless of what today’s plans there, the simple fact is passenger rail is alive and well, properly funded now by in-state private capital and not promises of public funds.

These trains will roll with no government grants or subsidy requirements. All Aboard Florida (AAF) is the first such nongovernment-subsidized intercity rail passenger service in the country. As long as passenger rail is alive and successful somewhere in Florida, the opportunity that we can get in on the act will always exist.

Upon my recent meeting with the Executive VP of Corporate Development for Florida East Coast Industries, Husein Cumber, we agreed that when this Miami-Orlando route proves successful, look for AAF to create more passenger rail links throughout Florida, the infrastructure already exists.

In my opinion, economically viable passenger rail in our state has the best chance it has ever had now as a result of this. After 40 years in every aspect of the rail industry, I have closely followed and maintained involvement with the AAF program and FECI, staying abreast of their progress and actively corresponding with my contacts within the program.

Now the challenge for St. Augustine is to figure out how we can be a benefit to this network because we will certainly benefit from it. What can St. Augustine bring to the table and who are right people in our city’s government to determine it? What is of paramount importance to St. Augustine right now is that we entrust the right people with the right experience and expertise in the position to actively lay the groundwork, insuring that we are properly prepared to make passenger rail a reality, not if…but when, the opportunity arises.

Mass transit here must eventually be seriously dealt with and what exists, improved. For example, expanded water taxi service, regularly scheduled public transport shuttle buses from St. Augustine Beach and from the airports, street car service, creating permanent locations to board the existing buses or exploring the viability of a now mostly privately funded, destination based passenger rail stop.

If this city wants to solve our parking crisis the only solution is effective public transportation. When we can development real mass transit to and from our city, non-automotive visitation from St. Johns County and other cities will increase resulting in less pressure on existing parking space making futile plans to squeeze in more unnecessary.

I believe in our city everyone understands the need for viable mass transit to alleviate congestion on all levels and promote minimum impact tourism. We must realize that this is rapidly becoming a crisis that can’t be ignored for much longer. As your commissioner, using my qualifications, experience and expertise, I can and will create and implement a real plan and lay the groundwork for the good of every resident of our neighborhoods, our businesses and the good of our city’s future.

Let us know what you think >>