How will region will fund mass transit?

Florida Trend reports the CEO of Lynx, metro Orlando’s bus system, resigned in February after less than three years on the job, leaving the transportation agency leaderless even as Central Florida politicians struggle to answer questions about how the region will fund mass transit. The move came shortly after the agency revealed it faces a budget shortfall of more than $20 million.

As they accepted Edward Johnson’s resignation, local leaders acknowledged that Lynx’s financial struggles were a problem long before Johnson arrived from the Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, where he was chief administrative officer, in April 2016. And the financial issues will continue under whoever succeeds him. That’s because Lynx lacks a permanent funding source, forcing the agency to cobble together budgets based on the whims of an assortment of city and county governments, none of which has sole responsibility for the agency.

Lynx runs about 300 buses a day and says there is enough demand to justify 600. Central Florida leaders have agreed for years that they need to better fund Lynx but have yet to agree on a plan. The problem is becoming more urgent: In 2021, the state will turn over responsibility for the SunRail commuter train system, which costs roughly $30 million a year, to the region’s local governments. Lynx is generally seen as the agency most likely to absorb it.

One idea: Tapping into the region’s hotel tax, which now generates more than $275 million annually in Orange County alone and is primarily spent on tourism advertising and subsidizing the Orange County Convention Center. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has proposed adding a seventh cent to the tax and using the money to pay for transit, though such a change will require the Legislature’s approval.

One important figure has yet to weigh in: New Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who declined through a spokeswoman to say whether he supports Dyer’s proposal. Demings hasn’t yet delivered a promised transit-funding plan.

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