The Emerge Transit Town Hall was a Success! Now what?

Justin Laden, Emerge Tampa Bay Voice Committee Member

Until this week, I never thought small talk could make me reexamine my political goals.

On Wednesday June 25th, Emerge Tampa Bay hosted the third annual “Unfiltered” town hall event at the University of Tampa’s Vaughn center. This year, the topic was expanding transportation throughout the Tampa Bay area. Along with more than a dozen other young professionals, I volunteered to help plan and implement the event to advocate for improved local transportation.

At the conclusion of the town hall, the panelists all agreed that concerned citizens should contact their representatives and express their support for expanded transportation. However, less than twenty-four hours later, a bit of routine small talk made me reexamine this advice. It began when I was asked a simple question by an older local business owner in South Tampa, “what have you been up to?”

I started talking about my computer security career. Then on a whim, I launched into a description of the town hall, and Emerge’s advocacy for transportation.

“That’s great,” he responded, “I think we need that.”

I was taken aback. Call me ageist, but I assumed that only young people or the economically disadvantaged were pro-transit.

“I’m glad you think so,” I replied. We’re also interested in expanding services like Uber and Lyft.” I was running on fumes here. Would this man of means and owner of a fine automobile give a second thought to smartphone based transit options?

Again, I was surprised. “Normally, I drive, but when I need a cab, I would love the opportunity to use either,” he said.

Due to this conversation, I’d like to offer a corollary to Wednesday’s panelists’ advice: in addition to contacting our elected officials, we need to speak with our friends and neighbors about this important issue. Merely conversing with one or two politicians is not enough. Yes, transportation—and the implicit question of how to fund it—can be a contentious topic, but expanding transportation is important enough to our community that we should risk the occasional disagreement to promote the issue. More importantly, the benefits of better transportation for everyone in our community can be explained by anyone in our community.

If you are committed to advocating for improved transportation, remember how to discuss any issue—frame your comments with the listener’s interests in mind. If a friend is a business owner, mention that expanding transportation will broaden her labor pool. If you know a recruiter, remind him that modern transit systems are a minimum requirement for many talented professionals, and a reason that Tampa loses so many of them to rival cities. If you have a relative who operates a retail shop, explain the potential business and foot traffic she will gain. And everyone, yes everyone, could use more transportation options during rush hour traffic and a safe ride home after a night out on the town.

Please contact your representatives, but don’t stop there. Follow up and speak with those with whom you interact on a daily basis. You will be surprised by the connections you will make and the generation gaps you will narrow. I joined Emerge with the express intent to work on Tampa policy events like the town hall, and to meet other young professionals. Little did I expect that Emerge’s policy goals would resonate with other segments of the Tampa bay community.

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