ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says a single mother’s struggle of spending 7 hours a day to get to and from work via public transportation is one of many similar stories here in Central Florida.
Demings was reacting the News 6 story about Verrisa Graham and her 3 1/2 hour journey from work in Osceola County to her home in the Conway area of Orlando.
“That’s sad,” Demings said. “I feel for that mother, because she is really the face of what I’m trying to address in this community.”
He says Graham’s story is a primary example of why he hopes his push for a one-cent sales tax passes on the November ballot. The mayor has gathered more than 10,000 surveys and hosted more than 150 conversations and town halls with the public on this issue. All with the hopes of getting Orange County residents to vote “Yes.”
The mayor says he’d like to see a multi-modal system in the Central Florida region meaning a mass transit that could include investing in the roads’ infrastructures, adding more Lynx buses to meet demands and expanding SunRail to encourage more ridership.
“If we are able to improve our transportation network, we can reduce the amount of time it takes her to get to work and to go home every day,” Demings said. “That’s precisely what I’m trying to do in this community, it can be done and it can be done if we have a good plan.”
However, a similar plan called Mobility 20/20 failed miserably with voters in 2003. Asked what if it doesn’t pass this time around the mayor said he’s optimistic.
“My sense of it is we can get this football across the goal line in November of this year if we do a good job of communicating to the public how we all will benefit together," Demings said. "We are at a critical point in our community now where people are frustrated about the congestion. They tell me in each session I’m engaged in they want us to solve it.”
After News 6′s story aired, viewers flooded ClickOrlando.com and social media with comments and questions. One viewer asked why Tourism Development Tax Dollars can’t help with the issue of public transportation:
“Yes ... public transportation here sucks. Why is the mayor trying to raise the sales tax instead of a tourist tax? Tourists clog this city and should cover the expense,” the viewer wrote.
Demings addresses that question.
“We are not leaving the tourists out, in fact, with this sales tax more than 51% will be paid for by the tourists,” Demings said.
He also said state law restricts what Tourism Development Tax dollars can go toward, and public transportation is not one of them.
According to state Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, added that right now, there are no bills currently at the state level to change that. His term will be up next year, but he said he’d like to see up 25% of the TDT dollars to go to public transportation.
“We need an expanded mass transit system,” Antone said.
Orange County residents can weigh in on what public transportation improvements they would like to see if the one-cent sales tax is passed in November. Orange County officials are encouraging residents to take a survey and share their comments before the survey closes on Friday.
For more News 6 Boomtown coverage visit ClickOrlando.com/boomtown.