HART’s use of Teslas in Tampa raises questions about use of taxpayer money

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In a Tampa neighborhood where many people can’t afford cars, they can ride in a $92,000 Tesla Model X for as little as one dollar a trip as part of HART’s HyperLINK ridesharing program.

“We’re the first in the nation to do electric cars for rideshare,” said driver Melanie Roux. 

Maybe so, but some 8 On Your Side viewers have contacted us to complain about the apparent extravagance of using one of the world’s most expensive vehicles in a public transportation system that’s already strapped for cash.

After we started asking questions, Interim HART CEO Jeff Seward released a statement saying the Teslas were a late addition to HART’s HyperLINK system that provides Uber-like ridesharing for customers and helps deliver them to a transit station in the “University area” near the James Haley VA Hospital.

“The Tesla was identified as an innovated enhancement to optimize HyperLINK, and four Model X vehicles were leased using only private dollars and no public taxpayer dollars,” Seward wrote. “This is a great example of the collaboration public-private partnerships can bring to enhancing local transit that directly benefits the communities we serve.”

HART spokesperson Sandra Morrison tells us that private business donors led by TECO are funding the $169,415 two-year leases for the four Teslas. So far they’ve contributed $137,500 with more promised. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The HyperLINK pilot project collects $1 for rides to transit stations or $3 for rides around the University, Temple Terrace and Brandon areas of Tampa. But HART pays $10 for each of those rides to its rideshare provider Transdev. In other words, according to HART spokesperson Sandra Morrison, every rideshare trip is subsidized between 70 percent and 90 percent with public money derived from a state grant or HART’s own budget – not including the cost of the Teslas.

HART’s rideshare program doesn’t come close to paying for itself, even without one of the world’s most expensive vehicles electric vehicles used to move people around. Sponsors insist they’re buying into the future, and looking forward to the day when ridesharing in Tampa will use fully autonomous Teslas that don’t require a driver.

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