By Kyle LoJacono
Karen Jaroch was one of the most vocal members of the No Tax for Tracks group that helped defeat a new tax for a light rail system, improved roads and more buses last November.
Now the self-proclaimed opponent of robust mass transit systems has a seat on the board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), which runs the county bus system.
Jaroch, who was sworn in on Aug. 17, was also the chair of the Tampa 9/12 Project and is a Tea Party advocate.
Six of the seven Hillsborough Commissioners voted for Jaroch, with only Democrat Kevin Beckner opposing. The commission selects six of the 12 HART board members.
Jaroch and No Tax strongly opposed the referendum last year that would have increased the sales tax within Hillsborough by 1 cent for every dollar spent. The group then went to surrounding counties to help keep any regional rail system of the board.
Jaroch’s stance on mass transit seems to have lessened slightly, but she still would like to keep public transportation small within Hillsborough.
“I would prefer private transit, but I’m not there to beat HART out of existence,” Jaroch said. “I’m there to work with it and improve the economy.”
One of the things Jaroch said she would push for is a smaller bus system, a view that differs from HART’s more recent goals of providing public transportation for everyone.
“I don’t know if we want a bus company that will serve everybody in the community,” Jaroch said. “That’s not feasible. But as a cost safety net to serve the people who really need it, I don’t have a problem with it as long as it’s done in a fiscally responsible way.”
That isn’t to say Jaroch is opposed to the idea of large public transportation on face value. She simply does not want everyone to pay for a service that benefits a few.
“If HART provides a service that is faster and cheaper and more convenient than other forms of transportation available, people will try it and would very likely adopt it in their routine,” Jaroch said.
Hillsborough Commissioner and HART board member Mark Sharpe, a Republican who recently announced he will challenge Kathy Castor for her U.S. House seat, had been a strong supporter of the tax increase last year.
Sharpe said he voted for Jaroch despite their conflicting viewpoints on HART’s direction out of a desire to work with those who have opposing viewpoints. He said he got to know Jaroch during the debate on the tax last year and said she was always “well prepared” and very “knowledgeable” on the subject.
“The only way we’re going to ever move transit forward is if all the parties sit down and work from the same set of numbers and coming up with the way to provide the public with transit,” Sharpe said.
Jaroch and the rest of the board will likely have some spirited debates in the coming years, as HART plans to debut a new rapid bus system, called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in March 2013. BRT will include more frequent bus service for communities in northeastern Hillsborough, such as New Tampa, to allow faster access to downtown Tampa.
Sharpe said the service is designed to allow better movement of people without adding to congested roadways.
For more information on HART, visit www.gohart.org.